When I was a senior in college, like many paying-my-own-way college students, I was poor. Broke, all the time. I worked the maximum allotted 19.75 hours per week as a student employee in the Honors Program office and another 20-25 hours per week at an accounting firm. Between the two, I barely earned enough to pay for rent, electricity and groceries. My weekly food bill could not exceed $5 -- can you even imagine that??? I ate Ramen, bananas, peanut butter and bread, and then had iceberg lettuce salads every day, twice a day. A woman I worked for in the Honors Program would bring in pesto and bagels once a week; I inhaled them. No wonder I lost a lot of weight that year...
That was a truly difficult year for me. The one hopeful thing that kept me moving forward, holding it together, was the promise of it all ending soon. All my energy flowed into my studies, one of my better decisions, ha ha ha. A lot of good things have come my way since college, and most can be traced back to lessons gleaned from that challenging year.
As I said, I was always broke. One day I was agonizing over something that cost money -- maybe it was rent or most likely FOOD -- and I had nothing. Whatever the expense, it was due before my next payday, and I wasn't sure how I would pay for it. Walking along, probably with my head down and crying (I did a lot of that that year), I found some money. Not very much, but just enough to tide me over. I can't remember if it was in a parking lot, along the street, somewhere on campus. That part is erased from my memory. But after that "discovery", it seemed that whenever I really needed money a little bit would fall at my feet, literally and symbolically. These pennies from heaven helped me through some of the most difficult days of my life. They gave me hope more than monetary fulfillment.
I promised myself then that I would never, ever take for granted small, unexpected gifts. To this day, I still look for AND PICK UP money in parking lots everywhere. Pennies, especially. (Ha!) Individually these coins might not have much value, but collectively they can buy a gallon of gas, a spiral notebook, an entire case of Ramen (j/k.) Today, I am not desperate like I was then. Today, I collect them for Sage. I collect them for a rainy day. But most of all I collect them because they represent tiny bits of happiness.
Yesterday I was feeling overwhelmed by all that needs to be done to prepare for our adventure. Much needs to be moved into storage, some things will be sold, and others will be donated to charitable organizations. We need to deep-clean and paint the house, tear down the backyard paradise we worked so hard to build...our fingerprint on this property must be wiped clean. El Valor is spotless but our everyday-life items must still be packed into it. The wiring and gas lines need to be checked out -- routine when you buy a used camper. The Driftah needs a home! All of this must be done in the next few weeks, while still entertaining and educating a very curious toddler and rebuilding our business. When do we squeeze in time for exercise? Ugh, that spinning feeling is coming back. Hold on a second.
In the midst of my dizzying thoughts, my little girl began dancing and shouting, "Ballet! Today! Ballet! Today!" Ironically, there was nothing graceful or elegant about her movements or chanting. She looked more like a marching soldier with ADD. But she was having fun, and her infectious laugh made me chuckle. I exhaled. My sweet husband hugged me. That seemed to squeeze out the stress...and I cried a little. My family had unintentionally reminded me of those lean days at the University; their well-timed gestures whispering that happiness does not always come in grand style. Worrying about the big picture (aka, preparations for our trip) will rob me of the pleasant moments -- a small child delighting in her own dance-play, a hug -- that subtly add up. Not very often do we win the lottery or inherit a windfall; usually it's the pennies we pick up off the pavement that make our fortune.