The Magic Penny
Do you remember the movie Somewhere in Time?
Lately I’ve been comforting myself with tidbits and media from my childhood in the 80s. I’ve never been much of a nostalgia person, but the practice of gathering little pieces from a time of innocence has been very healing for me in this year. Listening to Queen, Heart, Prince. Remembering the movies that made my heart flutter and my imagination soar.
A time travel romance set in 1980, Somewhere in Time tells the story of a young playwright (Christopher Reeve) who falls in love with an actress (Jane Seymour) from 1912 after stumbling upon her picture in the Grand Hotel.
Increasingly infatuated, Reeve’s character dresses in a vintage suit, removes all anachronisms from his hotel room, and wills himself back in time to 1912 through self-hypnosis. He carries in his pocket a single item from the present: a 1979 penny. He soon meets the famous Edwardian actress and naturally they fall in love. The star crossed lovers manage to overcome obstacles and ill will to be together, promising each other to marry. When she suggests they acquire a new suit for him as his is a decade out of fashion, he unintentionally pulls the penny out of his pocket and is immediately transported back to his own era. Brokenhearted and weakened by the time travel, he dies in despair.
I have wondered many times over the last 4 years: did I unwittingly pull a dubious magic penny from my pocket in November of 2016, leaving me writhing in disbelief in this stupefying new landscape? Was I somehow transported from the world I knew, a world in which I could predict basic outcomes with marginal regularity simply with a modicum of knowledge and experience? What dream had I been so abruptly wrenched from to find myself in this increasingly horrific dystopia? If I could find that phantom trickster penny, I would travel to the ends of the earth risking life and limb to throw it into the proverbial fires of Mordor.
Some months ago, in the midst of the pandemic and economic freefall, I found a shining new copper penny in the street near my home. I picked it up and examined it for the year of its provenance as one is wont to do, and found to my great surprise that is was stamped with an immaculate ‘2020.’
2020. How could anyone have thought it important or necessary to mint a nearly worthless coin in 2020, this nightmarish year with its continuing pageant of escalating crises? Why this colossal waste of effort? It struck me as completely absurd...and oddly magical. I put it in my pocket.
Now, on the eve of the American presidential election in 2020, weakened, despairing, and full of dread as so many of us are after the trauma of the last four years, I’m left wondering: what WAS the meaning of that peculiarly perfect 2020 penny? Is it actually the angelic opposite of the damning penny from Somewhere in Time? Is it a tiny message from the universe, reminding me that even in these days of unprecedented strife and fear there is still hope to return to a life of not-constant nightmares? Perhaps even a chance to dream a new dream, tiny as it may be at this time?
I’m reminded of yet another movie from the 1980s. I’m sure you all remember The Neverending Story. Will we find ourselves tonight sitting in the dark with the Child Empress, after the Nothing has devoured everything we’ve known and loved? Will she gently hand us that last grain of sand—the shining penny—that can bring back our world if we just commit ourselves to reimagining it?
Of course, there is no answer to my wistful musing at this early hour. As I sit typing, pointedly refusing to read the headlines or listen to the news of the polling stations, I am closing all the doors in my mind that lead back to that night 4 years ago. I’m sweeping away the refuse that litters the hallways of my heart, and scrubbing away the stains of injustice and outrage from the walls of my memory. If I can just will myself back—or forward—to a world where integrity is paramount, where truth is known and justice is served, where our land and lives are valued and stewarded with care, then maybe, just maybe…