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It's Nelly's World

Somewhere Up There

alec vanderboom

Dear Abby runs a repeating theme in her column (and yes, I am a devoted reader: where else can one simultaneously gloat over others' extraordinary bad behavior, and be chastened about one's own?) titled "Pennies from Heaven." In it, people recount their experiences with what they believe are messages from their dear departed. In an uncharitable mood, I might retitle it "Wishful Thinking"; it's such a bald case of desire remaking reality in its own image. (The intense version of what we do all the time, in so many ways, count them.)

But my smugness vanishes when I simply imagine the cold thump in the chest when the eye lands on what it believes it sees. What could be realer than the slow dawning of a sensation that eclipses every other sensation? The sensation that someone is back.

Apparently pennies are worth more as melted copper than they are as currency. People throw them away. If you feel a twinge of unrightness every time you see this, then you are officially Old. Sorry. There are signs.

We have thus all become accustomed to finding them everywhere, including our sock drawers. But in the past several days, they've been leaping at me in such numbers I started noticing, then puzzling, finally feeling a bit alarmed. My opinion on the existence of a Higher Power in the Great Beyond has been tiresomely documented here, so I don't need to repeat that. And yet . . . (The great hallelujah in life: the opportunity to say "And yet . . . ")

Someone is trying to tell me something. And either that someone is a masterful magician, or else I am wrong in my scientific suppositions. Then again, that someone might well be in me. Perhaps I am trying to tell myself something. But how'd I get all those pennies to appear?

On the seat of my car. At a table in a restaurant. In my pocket. In the tankbag of my bike. On my bedside table. On the kitchen counter. Underneath my desk. Yesterday, at Trader Joe's, I heard a clatter, and a penny was rolling toward my foot. It stopped right in front of me. I looked up, but everyone was busy perusing the organic lemonade and sea salt potato chips.

Was I about to get lucky? You have no idea how much I need it, right now. Or so I think. I am aware this has dangers: Luck is not delivered. It is made.

(My brother-in-law, a crack backgammon player, was once smearing me all over the floor in a game. He threw doubles after doubles, racing around the board while I stayed still, taking the hits. "You are so lucky!" I exclaimed after he threw double 5s, again. "A good player makes the dice look lucky," he replied, and I heard this with the unmistakable press of truth. Look: I'm retailing the story twenty years later, so it made an impression.)

In a moment of despair, questioning everything but getting stony silence for answers, I phone a friend. Well, at least there's one thing that's right in my life right now: wonderful friends I can call when in despair. Finally, I tell her about this . . . this weird occurrence. The plethora of pennies suddenly coming to me. I feel strange as all get-out relating it. But I know she won't laugh.

Instead, she assists me in crawling toward the first answer I've had in a while: maybe, she says, it's my way of reminding myself that in order for something good to happen, the initial step is realizing how much good I already have. The anguish re-frames itself in that moment: Maybe things are going to be all right after all! I take my hands from the iron railing of the figurative high bridge over the hard gray river. I turn and start to walk again. To the other side.

At that moment, holding the phone against my ear, my eye stops roving--over the roofline, the sight of the chimney cut out against the sooty clouds, the branches of the pine swaying. It is drawn downward. I am still laughing about the pennies from heaven. That is when I see it. A penny, right under the footstool of the deck chair I am sitting on. I am saying the word, and here is the thing.

Yes, here is the thing.