We tend to ignore pennies. They won't buy much and they're so small they easily get lost. A penny down in the corner of a man's pocket may go unnoticed until it shows up in the washer or dryer. And what woman hasn't emptied a purse and found a couple lurking in there somewhere?
And yet a penny has an odd kind of power, the power to teach an important lesson. Step outside, hold one between your thumb and forefinger, stretch out your arm, and look up. That small copper coin will blot out the sun. At night it will blot out the moon. Bring it near your eye and it will blot out the entire universe. But it's still just a penny.
A number of years ago, on a crisp, clear October morning over in Sedona, I had the good luck to be in the passenger seat of a car on my way to a spot with a great view of the red rock country.
It was a perfect day, a day to make you glad you were alive.
We were looking for an unmarked road, and the driver, an old hiking buddy of mine, spotted an elderly man making his way up a steep road against the wind, hunched over and clutching a bag full of groceries. My friend stopped and asked for directions. The old man juggled his heavy bag to get a hand free and pointed to our turn. Then he chuckled at himself as he juggled the heavy bag back into position, making some casual remark.
I can't tell you what he said. I don't remember.
What I do remember is that my friend disagreed with it. And what I remember even better than that is what happened next on that beautiful October morning.
The two of them went ballistic. They went absolutely crazy. They were ready to rip out each other's throat. I couldn't believe my ears. The shouting and screaming went on until my friend rammed his vehicle into gear and roared on up the road.
I wish I could tell you what they were arguing about, but I don't remember, and I know why. I learned in a teaching methods course that anger, or violence, or any strong emotion interferes with our ability to accurately observe and retain information. That's why eyewitnesses to things like shootings are so often unreliable, and it's probably why I don't remember the subject of that argument. I do remember, however, how trivial it was. They were literally arguing about nothing.
Remember that penny? That small copper disk that will blot out the sun if you let it? Well, those two could not see past their own petty beliefs. They were two blind, raging fools.
I ask you, what does anyone get out of that kind of anger except a dangerous spike in blood pressure? Those two were both old enough so that raging out of control like that could have precipitated a stroke or heart attack. It was less than a year later, in fact, that a massive stroke killed my old friend, just chopped him down in his tracks. He was under 60.
It ain't worth it, folks. It just ain't worth it. Life is short enough.
Why make it shorter and more unpleasant by stumbling through it with two cents' worth of opinion blocking your view?
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