By Abe Villarreal
I carry a little penny with a cutout cross in my pocket. Yes, it’s a shiny penny, and right through the middle is the cutout shape of a Christian cross.
When I recently showed it to a friend, the first question she asked me was, “Isn’t that against the law?” I shrugged my shoulders, not understanding what she was asking. Apparently, according to Title 18, Chapter 17 of the U.S. Code, it is a punishable crime to deface coins and currency.
My friend was missing the point. I shared the penny with her because it makes me happy. Everything about it makes me happy. It reminds me of my Sunday mornings with Julio and George, the two breakfast buddies I get to sit with each weekend at The Drifter.
It’s there, at the diner-style bar, where a friendly waitress gave me the penny. I was complimenting her on a shirt she had on at the time. She always wears shirts with positive messages or Bible verses. She said thank you, and then gave me the penny. She said I should have it so that I would always carry a cross wherever I go.
Her little act of generosity gave me a big smile. It reminded me of the parable in the Gospels where the poor widow gave two coins at the temple treasury. While others gave gifts based on their vast wealth, the widow gave more than she had to live on.
From what I have seen living in high poverty areas and in my many trips to barrios along the Mexican border, it is the poor that give the most. Every time I have been welcomed into the home of a humble family with none of the treasures of our material world, I am welcomed with the kinds of provisions that mean more to me than any modern-day treasure.
It is the poor that make little money but share the most with others. It is the poor that don’t hesitate to break bread with the hungry even if they only have one piece bread to break.
I often wonder why we don’t look to the poor like we look to the rich for inspiration. We applaud the great gifts of philanthropy that are given by people who can afford to give much more. What we don’t notice is the sharing of a life-changing meal by a person who only had one meal to give.
To me, that little shiny penny with a cross on it was not a small act of generosity; instead, it was a large act of love by someone who probably couldn’t give me more. Really, she didn’t need to give more. She gave me all I needed and reminded me that we can all give more.
For now, that penny makes me smile and it gives me little reminders that when I see someone that needs a moment of hope, I’ll pass along that penny without hesitation because that is what a poor man with a rich heart should do.
Abe Villarreal writes about life and culture in southern New Mexico. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.