A Million Pennies for My Thoughts

For #TakeBackTuesday, here is my 2009 Comp 1 creative writing paper which won the class writing competition. [I edited it a wee little bit.]

A Million Pennies for My Thoughts
21 September 2009

As the class cheered and patted me on the back I extended my open hand. My teacher placed into my hand a piece of flimsy paper. Not just any old piece of paper, but a check for a million dollars. I look at the small piece of paper in awe; how could something so small, so fragile have this much power?

My friend tapped me on the shoulder and I awake with a start from my daydream. My teacher is in the middle of telling us that she will give one of us a million dollars if we write the best paper on how to spend it. I listen to my teacher for a bit longer, but I wander back into my dream world fantasizing about how I would spend the money. Sure, there would be a couple of things I’ll do for myself, but I think the majority of the money would go to charitable causes because when all’s said and done, the things in life that really matter aren’t made out of pieces of flimsy paper.

For my big splurge on myself I would go to Italy. Rather than going to Rome where there are hordes of noisy tourists in colorful Hawaiian shirts with huge cameras dangling from their necks, I’d find someplace small and quiet where I can paint. I’d wake up to the warm Italian sunshine streaming through the open window and I’d make my way down the stone steps listening to the sound of the seagulls on the dock and old men whistling. I’ll follow the scent of fresh bread and Italian coffee down to a small courtyard, and while I eat I’ll sketch a picture of the little neighbor girl putting flowers from the garden in her wavy black hair. The pictures I paint will go to a hospital so others can experience the beauty of Italy, too. I’ll take sailing lessons and once I get back to the States I’ll buy a little sailboat. I’ll pay off my debts and put about $100,000 in the back to gather dust. Now I get to start with the fun stuff.

Have you ever wished that as you were walking down the street someone would just hand you a thousand dollars? If that did ever happen, I’d be the person giving it to you. As I handed you the cash I’d grin and say, “Giving is better than receiving,” hoping you would pass a bit of it along. I’d walk away and you would look at me in disbelief as just a few blocks later I’m handing a wad of money to yet another unsuspecting civilian.

When my feet get tired and there’s no more cash in my pocket, I’ll head back to my boat and rest before I go visit Operation Christmas Child, an organization that gives gifts to poverty-stricken children. When I get there I am received by the founder, Franklin Graham, himself. He thanks me as I hand him a rectangular piece of paper which will help so many in need. He looks at the check and then back at me with astonishment. “This is amazing. I really can’t thank you enough,” he says gratefully. “Actually, I’m not done giving quite yet. Could you possibly help me out?” I say with a twinkle in my eye. He nods and states that he’d do what he could.

I’m in the back of a worn out school bus with twenty other missionaries. We’re sweaty and brown from the hot African sun, and our shirt billow in the dusty air like the sails of my boat in a western gale. After hours of hanging on for dear life to the threadbare seat in front of me trying not to lose my lunch, we finally arrive. This is our fifteen stop in Africa, and I am still excited and ready to serve. A small village greets us warmly as we start unloading the shoeboxes filled with gifts. I hand a little boy a shoebox and when I look up from his happy face I see his mother and she gives me the most beautiful smile I have ever seen as tears of gratitude stream down her face.

After a few words from one of the missionaries through the translator, we give them the thumbs up. Children start laughing and yelling as red and green wrapping paper starts flying everywhere. I stand back and watch little girls cuddle dolls and boys push toy cars across across the hard-packed ground. The adults start humming and singing praises in their native tongue, but soon the humming turns into a disarray of noise and everything grows blurry. I open my eyes and I’m back in my classroom and everyone is leaving. “Don’t forget to turn your papers in next week,” my teacher’s saying over the noise.

When I go home to my family that night, I listen to them talk about their day, and as we sit down to eat I look around and breathe a quick prayer of thanks. If you think about it, it isn’t fancy boats or taking trips to Italy in the summer which make a life worth living, because in the end, the things in life that really matter aren’t made of paper. As I take a bite of the best lasagna in the world, I smile knowing that, “not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.” -Albert Einstein.


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