I bring my lunch to work almost every day. Part of the reason is because it is much less expensive to make your own lunch than it is to buy it somewhere every day, but another part of it is that I don’t want to have to go out and get it all the time. However, there are some days, like this morning, that there are no leftovers and nothing to make a sandwich with. So on some of these days, I just make the old standby – peanut butter and jelly. I don’t want to have a PBJ sandwich every day, but every once in a while is alright with me. Actually, there are times in the winter on a Saturday afternoon that a toasted PBJ just hits the spot. The peanut butter a gooey, melty mess and the jelly nice and warm – yum!
There was a time when I was a kid that I had a PBJ sandwich almost every day for lunch. The only times I didn’t, I had a peanut butter and fluff sandwich (a fluffernutter). That’s how much I loved peanut butter. Even when I started elementary school (I didn’t go to kindergarten) I still had PBJs or fluffernutters for lunch because I brought my lunch to school most of the time the first few years. It wasn’t that the school lunches weren’t good; they were much better back then than they are now. They actually made the food in the school kitchen in those days.
To this day, I still vividly remember a day in second grade when I thought my lunch was ruined – and probably my life with it. We used to get to school a little early and hang around outside, playing with our friends. Sometimes we played with a football or played catch with a baseball. This particular day, there was one guy throwing a rubber ball off the brick wall of the school to a pack of us to see who could get “three outs” first and become the guy to do the throwing. It was intense and we were going after the ball like there were two outs in the ninth inning of the seventh game. Guys were getting run into, pushed out of the way and even knocked down. We were having a blast!
The bell rang, signaling the end of our fun and the start of classes. My teacher, Mrs. O’Reilly, was an older, no-nonsense teacher, so when she came out to get us, we didn’t mess around. It was near the beginning of the year, but I already knew to do what she told you. I quickly went to pick up my jacket and my lunch and then I noticed it. My lunch was squashed. Someone had stepped on it and flattened out my brown bag lunch. I picked it up and slowly opened it to see a PBJ pancake. The tears started welling up in my eyes as I contemplated my poor, flat, mutilated PBJ sandwich. I held it out in front of me, finding Mrs. O’Reilly through my tears. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked. I was in such a state of shock I couldn’t even speak.
She was looking at me, probably trying to figure out where I was bleeding. I just held my mangled lunch bag up to her. She looked at it, looked at me, and said in a slightly annoyed manner, “What’s the problem?” What’s the problem? WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?!?! Was she blind? I thought it was pretty obvious.
Between heaving breaths I managed to get out the horrible truth, “Someone stepped on my lunch!” Again, she looked at my lunch, looked at me, and in a noticeably more annoyed manner said “You can still eat it, it’s just a little flat!” She handed it back and I stared at her in disbelief. Couldn’t she see that my lunch was ruined? Heck, my whole day was ruined! Obviously she didn’t understand, because she started to push me toward the door and into the school. My classmates were all looking at me, wondering if I was OK, that I must have gotten hurt. But the only thing that was hurt right then was my feelings. I remember thinking something to the effect that my Mom would NEVER have done that.
Lunch time came and I took out what was once my wonderful PBJ sandwich, trying to conceal it from everyone else. I was embarrassed to have to eat such a pitiful sandwich, but eat it I did. I think I even fought back a few tears from my eyes at lunch, too. When it was done, Mrs. O’Reilly came by and asked me if my lunch was OK. I hated to admit it, but my sandwich tasted just fine, even if it was about an eighth of an inch thick. She smiled at me and patted me on the head the way adults do and I couldn’t help but smile back. That day I learned that Mrs. O’Reilly wasn’t such an old Meany after all, that she was actually pretty nice.
I also learned something else that day. Call it a life lesson, call it a metaphor for life. Sometimes your lunch is going to get stepped on and squished, and you have a choice to make: you can sit there and cry about it, or you can pick it up and eat it anyway. That day, for probably the first time in my life, with the help of a wise teacher, I chose to eat it anyway.