Penny For Your Thoughts (Or Which Side Are You On?)

Lately I hear media pundits talk about a possible time of civil unrest or even civil war in the United States. I try to put this idea aside as an exaggeration…because this is almost too scary to contemplate. But, my anxiety for the future of our country lingers…it resides at the back of my thoughts and no matter how hard I try to ignore it, it creeps in and colors my life. Are our people so divided and fearful of each other that we would destroy one another?

Walk in another man’s shoes for awhile if you want to understand where they are coming from…I have heard variations on this quote for most of my life and have tried to put myself in the shoes of others to try and learn about them…the “other.” I don’t think we can ever truly understand another person, but this exercise, the trying on of shoes and walking their path, is a start. It helps to have imagination and compassion.

I am really struggling with this concept. I keep coming back to the penny. If you look at one side of the penny you see the profile of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln:

No matter how different we are, we can agree that this is the image on the face of the penny. * This is our reality. But, what if I am looking at Lincoln’s face and you are looking at the other side of the penny. You will see:

You will be seeing the Lincoln Memorial. We can both be looking at the same penny and we can see totally different images. And we can argue about this and both be right.

What if we put the coin on it’s edge. Then we would both see the same image of the penny and could agree. But, are we willing to look closely at the other side of things, the differing opinions of others. This is hard to do and I think most people don’t even try. It is easier to hold fast to our own perceptions. We so want to be right. Lately, I often feel like I am looking at a spinning penny…I can’t make out any images and so don’t know what to think.

When I thought about exploring this penny metaphor, I dug into my meager coin purse (I don’t use coins these days) and dug out some pennies. I was surprised to find a new back to the penny:

In my mind I had been so sure of the Lincoln Memorial being on the back side of the penny! How did this new back not get my attention before this? Why get rid of the old image? What does the shield mean?

So, a little online research tells me that the face of Lincoln first appeared on a penny in 1909 to celebrate 100 years since Lincoln’s birth. The wheat on the back represented prosperity. In 1959 the wheat image was taken off and the Lincoln Memorial appeared on the back to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Then starting in 2009 there were 4 other designs to appear on the back of the Lincoln penny:

  1. Log cabin- to represent his early years
  2. Lincoln reading a book
  3. Lincoln in front of Illinois statehouse to celebrate his time as a lawyer and statesman
  4. Unfinished Capitol Dome – to symbolize our struggle during the civil war

Then in 2010 they minted the image of the shield on the back in honor of the sesquicentennial of his election win. The shield symbolizes our national unity. Learning what the designs represent gives me a bit of hope that we will not come apart, but will come out of this current strife a stronger country.

I am told that there is talk of doing away with pennies altogether. Maybe we can use the old pennies as part of our school children’s education…?

The image that has not changed all these years are the words “E Pluribus Unum”, Out of Many, One…we can have different ideas and listen and learn from each other and work with each other…Let this be our future.

Info from:

Lincolncottage.org

usmint.gov

en.wikipedia.org

Photos by B. McCreary

*The words “In God We Trust” and “Liberty” on the face of the penny speak for themselves

Fears

Halloween is almost here, a time when many of us like to dress up in costumes and be someone else for a night. Maybe we hope to scare someone else with our creepy monster outfit. Some of us like to scare ourselves by visiting one of those haunted houses where scary people leap out of the darkness. As an older adult I just enjoy giving out candy at my front door and guessing what each cute kid is supposed to be. Not happening this year. We have not decorated the yard and we will not welcome trick or treaters to our house. Catching and spreading the covid-19 virus is the fear this year. Many of the neighborhood yard decorations have incorporated a pandemic theme into the traditional pumpkins and ghosts. One house down the street has a large sign that reads “Quarantown” and there are skeletons trapped behind bars.

Fear is as much a part of being human as loving and laughing. We are all afraid of something. I am afraid of being outside during a thunderstorm and of being a passenger in a car with a reckless driver. I am afraid to fly. These fears are all of things outside of myself. But, when I was younger I struggled with a different kind of fear. As a child I suffered from social anxiety. I would get very shy in large groups of people, especially ones I didn’t know. I would not talk. Then I developed a school phobia, causing me to miss many days of school. I became agoraphobic and was unable to go into a burger joint just to buy a hamburger. It was not easy, but eventually I overcame these fears. I am confidant and even outgoing. I can shop anywhere and I have even given talks before large groups of people.

But, some of my personal fears have come back in 2020. I drive only once a week, or less. As I approach my car I am nervous about going anywhere. I feel like my old socially anxious self. As I pull out of the drive-way I have to remind myself that, yes, I do know how to drive and I will not have a wreck. I am now used to wearing a mask in stores, but still feel super self-conscious around the other shoppers. I don’t speak to them. I turn my head away and do not inhale or exhale as I pass them. I am always relieved to get back out to the parking lot.

At the beginning of the pandemic I was mindful of the growing virus cases around the country. On March 26th I started a chart. I began to keep track of the number of covid-19 cases for my county, as well as all the counties in the United States where I had loves ones. On March 26th Travis county reported 119 cases. Two days later we had our first death. As I write this on October 29th, 7 months later, my county reports 31,851 cases and 449 deaths. 2.6% of the people here have been infected…or 1 out of every 39. It is worse in other parts of Texas.

There is a dread here. A fear that no matter the mask wearing and the social distancing, the invisible monster, the covid-19 virus, will get us anyway.

I am not even going to start talking here about my other dreads, the visible monsters: more unarmed people killed by police; election results/no election results; civil unrest; wildfires; hurricanes; loved ones I may never see again; murder bees…

One of my favorite quotes is this one by Eleanor Roosevelt ( a shy, introvert herself):

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”

Well, I am looking fear in the face. But, so much of what I am afraid of is not inside myself, but out there waiting to get me. So, like many of you, I will distract myself by the beauty outside:

“The fears of what may come to pass,

I cast them all away,

Among the clover scented grass,

Among the new-mown hay.”

(Louise Imogen Guiney- “A Song from Sylvan,” St. 2)

And Hey, two full moons in one month is a good thing, a sign of better times to come. Be fearless my friends and stay safe.

*Quotes from Volume One (1800-1899) The Quotable Woman-compiled and edited by Elaine Partnow- Pinnacle Books

*Covid-19 numbers from: Infection2020.com

*Photo- My mother and three of her siblings taken around 1940