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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Wolff

Dollar Signs

It was one of those flawless Southern California days you see in the movies. We’d been living in Los Angeles for two months. Everything, everyone we knew and loved was in Detroit, 2300 miles away; our “next” had not yet come to claim us. This was reason enough to take my daughters out of school for the day and make Zuma Beach our own.

I take the winding road from the Valley through Topanga Canyon, my first drive to the ocean, wide-eyed at its wild, unfettered beauty, hoping to spot one of its legendary celebrity hideaways. We stop at the health food store at the top of the canyon, browse the snack aisle and debate the merits of pretzels vs. Raisinets. The snack votes tallied, we wait in the checkout line and lay our goodies on the counter. The owner rings up our purchase and hands the girls their snacks. “Two dollars even,” he says. I hand him a five-dollar bill and he holds my gaze.

“Little Mother,” he says and brings his palms together in a pronam and bows his head. No one I knew in Detroit pronams back then, but I have a sense of what the gesture means—its reverent soul-to-soul tip of the hat. Something ancient within me feels seen. I open my heart and return this regard. He smiles, listens for a moment to someone, something inside him, then nods, then reaches into the breast pocket of his shirt and hands me three shiny silver dollars in change. “These are magic dollars,” he says. “You’ll see.”

Our transaction completed, he turns to his next customer. I drop the coins into my change purse and we head for the car. Jane starts to sing “America the Beautiful.” Julie and I join in. When we get to the line about “purple mountains majesty,” I pull onto the road.

Thirty seconds later my right front tire blows. The car swerves. Pretzels fly. Daughters cry out. I edge onto the grass, restore calm, and assess the damage. A tow truck pulls up as I spot the nail in the tire. The driver jumps from the truck, off-loads the girls, and repairs the damage. The whole thing takes five minutes.

“Three dollars, ma’am,” he says.

I forget, until I open my change purse, that the only money I have with me is those three silver dollars. I hesitate—seeing as how they are magic and all—and wonder how to proceed. The driver smiles. “One of them’ll do just fine.”

I hand him the coin. “It’s magic,” I say, hoping this compensates for what I owe him. As he pulls by us in his truck, he presses the coin to his lips.

We strike up another round of “America the Beautiful” and head to the beach. Four hours later, parched and pinked by the sun, we backtrack through the canyon into the neo-wilds of the San Fernando Valley. The girls sleep in the back seat. As I approach Ventura Boulevard Julie’s eyes snap open.

“Mom! Look! It’s Toys R Us! Connie’s birthday is tomorrow. I know what she wants! Can we stop? Pleeeeease?”

Connie is the only friend the girls have made since we moved. We pull into the parking lot, locate the robotic dog section in the store, and score the last pup. We enter the checkout line at the Toys R Us equivalent of Kansas, move West into Toy Arizona, and reach Toy Promise Land forty-seven minutes later.

When we reach the cashier, I remember the state of my finances. Coins in hand, I look into her eyes and say without apology, “I have two dollars.” The people directly behind us gasp. She snatches the silver from my palm.

“This one here’s a Morgan Liberty Head. I’ve been lookin’ for one of these for months! I’ll give you three bucks for it. Shoot! I’ll buy your kid that Digi-Dog in trade.”

Shoppers within earshot whistle and applaud. Shoppers as far back as Toys R US Topeka catch the wave and join in. I give her the Morgan and she kisses it. The girls and I turn in unison, curtsey, and wave like the Queen. Julie grabs the dog and we run to the car.

I put the key in the ignition and the gas light indicator on the dashboard flares like an inflamed mosquito bite. The girls spot a Shell station across the street. (Lucky for us this occurs at a time when a dollar puts more than vapors into a gas tank.) We walk to the gas station, give our last silver dollar to the attendant, lug the gas can to then fro, then head home. As we pull out of the station, I look in the rearview mirror and see the attendant tossing the coin in the air and kiss it on the catch.


This is a good story to tell now, when Goodness sometimes seems too good to be true and disconnection from our past and uncertainty about our future make moving forward feel very hard to do. What strikes me most now when I think about that day is how that pronam created an opening in me that allowed both the unexpected and the solutions to the unexpected feel so … uncomplicated.

So, after I’d written this story, I ask myself what would happen if I pronamed—soul to Over Soul—to the challenges that currently present themselves to me? What if I greeted my present-day predicaments with openhearted respect? And, what if I simply, sincerely, honestly, calmly made my best effort then consciously petitioned for the Greater Good to unfold?

What if unconditional reverence and trust in the Greater Good became the coin of my realm?

I’m gonna give it a try.


Margaret Wolff is a writer, storyteller, art therapist, and retreat leader. Her work celebrates the ways in which the collective wisdom and storytelling reveal the truth and beauty of our inner lives and connect us—heart to beating heart—to each other.

COMING HOME: Finding Shelter in the Love and Wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda (White Pearl Press, May 20201), is a curated collection of 14 modern-day stories of spiritual awakening that reflect “the most creative and transformative experience life can offer—developing an intimate partnership with the invisible God of one’s heart.”

Available wherever fine books are sold.

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Aug 21, 2021

Margaret here! Am getting lots of lovely emails about this blog. Thanx! Please post your thoughts in the comments section on the blog so we can keep the conversation going! 💫

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