My son Caney’s latest obsession is coins. He loves foreign coins, shiny coins, and old coins. He loves the exotic images, the feel of copper and silver, and the idea that they are worth something. We went to the Coin Purse in Nashville for him to buy an old coin with a panda on it. When we got there an old, old man with thick tortoise-shell-framed-glasses was sitting with three books filled with pages of copper and silver mint-conditioned coins that must have represented a life-time of collecting. The owner of the coin store was sitting opposite the old man with an adding machine, going through each page, coin by coin, adding up their worth. I was trying to imagine what the story was behind selling this treasure. Maybe he had a sick wife, or he was sick. Maybe he needed the money for his granddaughter’s wedding. I thought of a million stories, in all of them, something more important than this collection was making him sell it all. I wanted to sit down beside him and hold his hand while the adding machine was calculating its worth. Instead we smiled at each other and I left him alone.
In that moment I thought about the old abandoned copper mine my family visited this summer in the desert of Namibia. Near the mine was a dry river bed where some white rhinos lived, so we talked the kids into going. We drove an hour on a dirt road with no other cars until finally we reached the mine. It was hot and so quiet that it hurt my ears to stand still, as if there was no air. When we got close to the mine we saw a thin African with a pick ax sitting in the 100 degree heat. He was just sitting there on top of the entrance like he was the only inhabitant on the planet. We walked around the stifling heat and saw semi precious stones like tourmaline in the rubble and even an old ax that my sons welded until the heat called them back to the car. We left with the man still sitting. A man told us later immigrants from Zimbabwe had taken over abandoned mines hoping to collect copper and stones to sell on the roadside to dealers who polish them and sell them for three times more. My mind again went to the story behind the man. There must have been great suffering in his life for him to spend his days guarding an abandoned treasure. He must have grieved leaving Zimbabwe and being apart from his children.
Three men of different ages, continents and circumstances all value treasure and from that treasure it feels possible to follow a path to their hearts. The path of their copper line leads beyond politics and families to a place and a moment when a man figures out his worth. The truth is though that the worth can’t be tallied on the adding machine or in the pittance of coins offered roadside. It is figured in the dignity of the human story and the tenderness of God to make those stories priceless. It is figured in the wonder of child that still loves the fantasy of treasure and the sweetness of the end of life story. I think the treasure is pointing to the heart, and how valuable that heart is.