Pennies from Manhattan

13 10 2008

When I was a freshman in high school (a long time ago), we were given a chapter of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to read in my English class. The chapter, entitled “Seeing” is a meditation on what we see and how we see it. In it, the child Dillard enjoyed hiding pennies, and thrilled at the thought of a lucky passerby finding “a free gift from the universe.” The adult Dillard wonders who really gets excited by a penny, given that any small enjoyment or happy experience counts as a penny.

We only read the first few paragraphs for class, and I have yet to read the rest of it. And yet (being the nerd that I am) I perused those first two paragraphs so thoroughly and so often that to this day I can recite them from memory, almost verbatim. Yesterday I slowed down my fast-paced New York life for a bit, and Dillard’s words returned to me: “It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.” Simple. Lovely. True.

And so, because in my actual struggling author poverty I too often forget to cultivate my figurative poverty, some pennies:

1) Fall days. I know I pull the California girl and have a tendency to be whiny and annoying when winter rolls around. But despite the fact that it’s the season before winter, fall is fabulous. Yesterday was one of those perfect days that sets all the city into a buzz of activity: warm but not sticky, with a light fresh breeze and that great crisp scent that can only really be had in a place with seasons (sorry California).

2) Bethesda Terrace. Dominated by Bethesda Fountain, this area overlooks the lake, where city slickers can (gasp!) row boats, and can be entered or exited through the stunning, tiled arcade that’s more reminiscent of ancient Rome than modern New York (at least to this New Yorker).

Can you say picturesque?

Can you say picturesque?

3) Eccentricities. While lost in the park I came upon many of these, but two were particularly notable. The first was an elderly man with a bushy beard dyed green and orange, dressed in a frilly lace dress and a gold hat with a bird on it, and dancing to rhythmic drums to the delight of a crowd of onlookers. The second was a tiny (and by tiny I mean about eight years old) street performer who silently and adeptly performed a series of circus tricks, adroitly juggling rings, then balls before moving on to a unicycle. Amazingly enough, less people stopped to watch him.

And I end, these being just a sampling of the pennies I picked up in the course of my Sunday. Perhaps one day does a millionaire make.

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One response

14 10 2008
Adrienne

That was beautiful.

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