A lost penny.
Such a small thing.
Set loose from a backpack flung over the shoulder at dismissal, it hit the asphalt, miraculously avoiding the stampede of children eager to exit seven hours of Catholic education.
And amidst this procession, three boys scrambled to retrieve the coin – each with his own motive.
The first, knowing that he had heard something, scanned the ground for said something before landing on a rock which he put in his pocket.
The second snatched the penny and held it triumphantly above his head yelling, “MY LUCKY DAY!!! MY LUCKY PENNY!!!”
The third dropped his backpack and lunged at the second boy, trying, despite his 2-in disadvantage, to grab the penny. “IT’S NOT YOURS,” Nick yelled with righteous indignation.
“I found it on the ground,” Kevin retorted, effortlessly holding Nick at arm’s length.
“But it came from Billy’s backpack! I saw it fall. You can’t just keep it!”
Meanwhile, Billy watched with some confusion. This was a near-permanent state.
“GIVE IT BACK!!!” Nick was jumping trying to get the penny, to no avail.
A small circle had now formed around the boys. We were mere seconds from someone yelling “fightfightfightfight”…and another trip to the principal’s office.
Kevin shrugged Nick’s ineffectual hand from his shoulder. “Jeez! It’s just a penny. What’s the big deal?” He then tossed the coin to Nick, who examined it before handing it over to Billy.
Never one to miss a teaching moment, it was at this point that I intervened. “The ‘big deal’,” I began, pinning him with my mom stare, “is that it’s not yours.”
“Whatever,” he mumbled under his breath as he shuffled away.
I could have called him back for his insolence and demanded an apology, but there was boy-becoming-a-young-man by my side who deserved a big high five…and a little lesson in moderation.
“I’m really proud of you for giving the penny back to Billy.”
He seemed perplexed by the praise. “I couldn’t keep it. I saw it drop from the bag.”
“True,” I agreed. “But not everyone would give it back. You stand up for what’s right. That’s a really important thing to do…also, next time you don’t have to yell quite so loud.”
He sighed, then, never one to hold a grudge, waved to his classmates. “Bye Kevin! Bye Billy!”
Such a small thing.
Yet these “small things” build character. They are the choices that define who we are now and who we will become. As I fret over the missed P’s and dropped Q’s that I fear indicate an absent moral compass, I too often miss the bigger picture, the one that shows me that these kids are quite alright.
At least, I hope they are.