Seeing Pennies

“Think about a penny.”

My mother and I are at a corner cafe doing work. And there’s a lot of work to do. She has this thick stack of papers to review. I have 12 pages of remarks to edit, there are those people I want to reach out to, that headache of a phone call I’ve been putting off. And it goes on.

But for the moment, we’ve paused.

“So, a penny,” my mother says again. She has a piece of trivia a friend gave her that she wants to ask me. “Who’s on it?”

“That would be Lincoln,” I say. Seen it a thousand times. Dumped it in a thousand tip jars.

“Exactly. Which way is Lincoln facing on the penny?”

And I have to think now. It’s left, isn’t it? Though right…I’m pretty sure right’s the direction what’s-his-name on the nickel faces. But does that mean Lincoln’s the same way? I’m going with left. Plus, right’s more obvious and it can’t be the obvious answer.

“Left. It’s left, isn’t it?” And as I say it, I think of the thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of times a penny has passed through my hands. And never once have I really looked at it.

“He’s actually facing right,” my mother says. Then adds, “It’s so easy not to see it.”

And what I will remember from that corner cafe is not the remarks that I edited or the phone calls I made. But Lincoln facing right and my mother’s gentle call to see the world as it passes through our hands.

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