As you may know, I’m the director of the Puget Sound Community School (PSCS) in Seattle. Part of my duties include some occasional teaching, or what we call ‘facilitating’ at PSCS, of classes. A recent one included me having the students read Annie Dillard’s book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Dillard begins chapter two by telling the story of how when she was a small child she’d sometimes hide a penny in her neighborhood for someone to find. She’d write out directions with chalk that lead to the penny, with statements like “Surprise Ahead” or “Money This Way,” and then allow herself to imagine the excitement of the person smart enough to follow the directions to the prize.
Later in chapter 2, Dillard refers to nature as providing “lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises.” She says, “The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand.” Wow! Could it be that what Dillard is saying is that there are all sorts of treasures out there just waiting for us to find?
Sometimes we see finding these things as random, like my appreciation of the blooming of a magnolia just being happenstance or luck. But what if me finding the magnolia isn’t random at all? What if it is somehow orchestrated, part of a bigger picture being carried out by a user-friendly universe? All along I was supposed to see the beautiful magnolia and appreciate it in all is wonder and splendor? Think about that.
I choose to see myself as part of something larger, as part of a universe of beings all embedded with the desire to be kind. In this universe, one might say that there is a conspiracy going on – a positive conspiracy to, in its most optimistic interpretation, bring joy to every person in it. And maybe we, individual people, are just the vehicles designed to provide each other all we need in any given moment by this friendly universe.
Returning to Dillard and Tinker Creek, she asks, “But who gets excited by a mere penny?” That’s our problem, isn’t it? We think that what we do or what we encounter isn’t big enough, as if finding a penny hidden by a 6 year-old child isn’t a big deal. Dillard writes, “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.”
Read that again: The world is in fact planted in pennies. And now imagine these pennies as having been placed there for you to find and appreciate. And all along there have been signs pointing to them, signs that say, “SURPRISE AHEAD!”
How wonderful does the world look now?
By Andy Smallman