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A peanut butter sandwich

Small things can often be reminders of large lessons. I learned this from my late cousin Gloria Doss who, faced with extremely limiting physical abilities, still lived her life fully, happily and with self-assured contentment. To me this was truly amazing, as this was a woman who had been extremely active, social and well-liked in her younger years before she was in a life-changing car accident.

This week, as we near the date of her “date with fate,” I want to share a small part of her life to show how it was summed up by a peanut butter sandwich.

My cousin, Gloria Doss, had been an important touchstone in my life since I was born, but it wasn’t until I lived with her for the last 14 years of her life that I truly came to know her.

Although Gloria lived as a paraplegic then quadriplegic for more than 56 years after being injured in a car accident, she didn’t let that define her. She retained a sharp mind, pleasant personality and strong will. She was also insistent on having what she needed to live as independently as possible. One of those demands was her food.

She always requested a peanut butter sandwich for her light evening meal and a cup of tea. As I would go into the kitchen to prepare this for her she would inevitably call after me, “Don’t forget to fill the corners!”

She was adamant about this and not satisfied unless every particle of bread, including the corners, was slathered with the creamy spread and the sandwich cut in half diagonally.

I would sometimes become a little exasperated about hearing this oft repeated instruction: “Don’t forget to fill the corners!” Sometimes I would even recite the line along with her. But I never failed to comply.

It took me awhile to realize that this was one of the few ways she could still “do” for herself. The peanut butter sandwich was easy for her to hold and the filling didn’t fall out or drip. Therefore, she could manage to hold it in one hand and, with the aid of her other hand, maneuver it to her mouth. A big personal accomplishment—she could still feed herself.

As time went on, I was no long annoyed by her evening admonishment, as I saw how important this small bit of independence was to her. Instead, I admired her and her determination to retain as much control over her life as she could. And, I admired even more her endless store of patience and faith, as well as acceptance of her situation

I began to understand that “Fill my corners!” was also how she lived her life. She not only followed this mantra in her own day-to-day life, it flowed over into her relationship with others.

She daily read passages from the monthly inspirational guides she received, meditated on them and prayed faithfully for herself and others. She welcomed her many visitors with a warm smile and greeting. Those who came to cheer her, often were the ones who left feeling uplifted in spirit by her caring manner, encouraging listening and wise insights. She filled a need for assurance in them and helped to assuage their hurts and frustrations. She filled their corners.

Gloria did more good, touched more people and lived more fully from her very small, confined part of the world than did many world leaders, celebrity spiritual figures, professional counselors, and most of the rest of us do who have unbounded ability to move, travel, meet, connect and influence others. Where she was limited by her physical handicaps, the rest of us are limited only by own our minds, desires, determination, efforts to help ourselves and others, and to be a positive voice in the world.

We skimp on filling our lives extravagantly with the good things that don’t fall, fail or stain us. We find excuses for being sparse with our time and efforts to reach out to others.

While you won’t find this passage in the Bible as a teaching on how to make life simpler and more rewarding; think how much better our lives and the world could be if we daily followed Gloria’s mantra for a good peanut butter sandwich:

“Don’t forget to fill the corners!!”

While there are many special events and fun things coming up during the month of May, including Mother’s Day (and where would we each be without one?), I’m going to just let the above writing stand for my Around Town for this week.

Instead, celebrate Mom, enjoy spring and find the joy in filling your corners!

Janet Douglas

Janet Douglas

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