Most days I take a walk. Since I live in Minnesota, I draw the line at walking on days when it’s below zero, days when it’s snowing too hard to see the street from our front door, or days when the ice transforms our front steps into a bobsled run. But most days I take a walk.
I try to pay attention while I walk. Any time outside rewards paying attention, but specially now in the spring is a time to savor and celebrate God’s good creation, a soul harbor in stressful times. I don’t want to miss anything, spring is happening so fast, buds yesterday are flowers today. Moreover, I’ve learned in my recovery from depression that paying attention to the world outside my mind, escaping self- accusative thoughts and anxiety laced scenarios, brings mental healing.
So I walk, I listen, I sniff the air, I look up, I look around, and I look down. Look, down? Oh, yes, you never know what you might find if you pay attention to the street in front of you. Money may not grow on trees, but sometimes it is lying in the street, waiting for the alert walker to pick it up and take it home. For years now my daily walks have also been a quest to add to my bank account. Coin by coin, it grows and grows. Hard to feel depressed when you see a shiny new penny winking at you from a little crack in the pavement.
I do find mostly pennies, but I’ve also found nickels, dimes, quarters, and on one memorial occasion, I found a dollar coin! I’ve never found a fifty cent piece, but I live in hope. And, once a year or so, I find some folding money. Last year on election day, maybe a sign that the times are a changing, I found a $10.00 bill floating in a puddle of snowmelt. An omen of better days to come, maybe?
Of course it wonderful to find a $10.00 bill. I couldn’t wait to tell people – sharing good news being something you do to strengthen and sustain your recovery. And for that matter it’s wonderful to find a bright, shiny quarter. But day in day out, it’s the pennies that I treasure. Far more than other coins, pennies show the scars of hard use. Yes, some I find sparkle like they just left the mint, but many are nicked and corroded, scraped by a car tire or a snow plow, worn by use and years of being small change. They all started out as shiny new pennies, but now they have character and individuality.
I invite you to identify with one of these pennies of hard use. It’s their scrapes and imperfections that tell their story, that let you know that they’ve been places and experienced things. The more worn they are, the more interesting they are. They’re unique, one of a kind, unreproducible. And so are we.
I look at the scratch marks on a penny I just picked up. It’s even bent a little. How did that happen? It’s like my depressions story, events that scraped and bent me– hospitalizations, unemployment, so many losses, so much pain. But it’s my story, part of who I am, something that defines me. I claim it and know that, though at times I yearn to be newly minted and sparkly, it’s the story that makes me real.
Like an old penny, I have survived. I celebrate and congratulate myself. Depression melts away before self-congratulation. To make it melt away even faster, I tell my recovery story to someone else living with mental illness, let them know I’ve been there and know how much it hurts, but also know life can get better, much better. I’m living that truth right now.
Like Walt Whitman I celebrate myself, and invite you to celebrate yourself. On our journey we have become unique and unrepeatable, with stories to tell and wisdom to share that will help others. Like a penny, the world may tell us we don’t count for much, but we know that we are children of God, and that however life has worn and marked us, we still bear the image of the one who created us.
Ordained in 1973, Bob Griggs has served UCC churches in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Minnesota. He is an Advisory Council member at Vail Place, a club house for people living with mental illness. He is also the author of A Pelican of the Wilderness: Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies and Recovering from Depression: Forty-Nine Helps.