Concrete Moments of Hope

Concrete Moments of Hope
Robert Bergman '93

On my walk the other day, I found a penny, and of course I stopped to pick it up.

It is a message from my father-in-law.

They may not make pennies anymore, but that’s beside the point. Here is why I picked it up—the story goes back to when my mother-in-law died. As she was passing away, the hospice nurse told my wife that she knew a person who believed every time she found a dime, that was her mother trying to let her know everything was going to be okay and that she loved her. Well, when my mother-in-law died we found dimes everywhere. We still do to this day. When my father-in-law died just a year and a half later, we started to find pennies. These tangible items connect me to comforting memories.

When I was a young teacher, I taught Shakespeare and Chaucer, and I believed in their stories and their words and their lives. After a few years of teaching their works, I finally had the chance to travel to England where I saw their original manuscripts in person, and eventually I wound up at their grave sites. I remember walking through Westminster Abbey, arriving at Poet’s Corner, seeing Geoffrey Chaucer’s tomb, and feeling this overwhelming sense of justification and happiness. This man’s burial place had established Poet’s Corner because he was the first of many famous writers to eventually be buried there. Here he was, interred forever, the man whose literature I loved. And he had been real!

Similarly, when I stepped up to Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, all the conspiracy theories in the world about who wrote Shakespeare’s plays fell away because here was the final resting place of the world’s most influential writer. He had existed in time in space.   

Our brains are hard wired to focus on the negatives around us, and I often wonder why. Well, evolutionarily focusing on the negatives has kept us alive as a species. We learned to create healthy relationships that are mutually constructive because we learned from destructive relationships—our brains force us to focus on the negatives so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

This evolutionary advantage can wear on us psychologically, so we have to often search for the positives, those little moments of hope.

Sitting in my basement during this pandemic and watching the news, I have noticed the love that people have shared for each other in times of need and suffering, but I’ve had to look for it. I’ve watched people stand up for what they believe in and demand justice. I’ve seen groups pass out free food and toiletries to people who desperately need it. I’ve seen people meet to discuss how to make our school and eventually our world a more welcoming and peaceful place by helping to establish a structure to help all of our students with equity and inclusion. I realized we can fall down a well of despair because our brains force us to focus on these negatives, but we can also pull ourselves out of it by doing something about those negative forces in our lives.

I have atheist friends who discount my penny and dime beliefs that my father- and mother-in-law are speaking to us from the great beyond, and I respect their position that heaven doesn’t exist. However, I counter with this: who cares? If I pick up a penny or a dime, maybe it doesn’t mean there is a heaven. Maybe there is no after life and this is the only one we get.

Hope comes in very small doses nowadays, and these little reminders have become all the more important.

I can take time out of my day and think about the life that we shared as a family. I reflect about everything they have missed in our lives and believe in the love that we had for one another. That is real.

Afterward provided by Mr. Bergman's wife

My husband's reflections are spot on. To add more about the passing of my parents: the hospice nurse told us about the dimes while my mom was dying. When my mom actually passed away a couple heartbreaking yet loving days later, I cleaned out her closet at the nursing facility. I put my mom’s winter coat on and in the pocket was a single dime and a stone with “Glory” written on it.  

My dad passed away while we were in Disney World. My sister called me, we had a good cry with 10,000 of our closest friends in the Magic Kingdom and then had a fast pass to make. On our way, we found a penny. We said mom is dimes and I guess dad is pennies.

So, yes, I 100% choose to believe. That is my choice. Many have given stats on the probability of finding coins on the ground—I am so proud of your math skills! But I choose to believe. I seem to find a dime when I need it the most. I choose to believe. We think of my parents every time we find a dime or penny and that is priceless to me.

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