The bottom of a peanut butter jar evokes a spiritual moment for me. The scrape of the knife against the sides takes me back to summer days in Xenia, Ohio. I was seven years old and staying next door with my grandparents while my mother finished the needed hours for her teaching degree at the University of Dayton. My grandpa provided most of the “babysitting” while my grandmother wrote music or poetry or letters to friends. I trailed him like a puppy dog exploring the world for the first time. Looking back with adult perspective, I marvel at his level of patience.
My grandfather had ministered to the hurting during the Great War, navigated a family of four children through the Great Depression, and husbanded a brilliant wife who suffered emotionally in an era when being an ambitious woman was not viewed sympathetically. My grandmother had recovered from a heart attack when I was four, but ever after – it seemed to me – felt short of breath or short of patience, or both. Grandpa entertained me with endless games of checkers that he never let me win, yet I loved to play. He set me down with a huge horseshoe magnet and a tin filled with metal washers, bolts, and screws to spill and regather by power of my magnetic magic wand. And then he fed me when I was hungry. He made me think sardines on crackers were ambrosia. (Couldn’t eat them now to save my life!) But my favorite lunch was peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches, folded over, not cut. And we always saved the middle for the last bite.
The mystical moment occurred when the peanut butter jar was empty. Or, at least, I thought it was ready to throw away. “Oh, no, Anna!” Grandpa would say. “We can both still have sandwiches out of that jar.” And he would scrape and scrape the knife against the thinly coated sides, then wipe the blade smoothly across the slice of Wonder Bread. It took short, determined strokes to lift the remaining peanut butter from the bottom, but many trips in and out of the jar and soon a real sandwich took shape. Sometimes he would speculate, “I think we may get one more yet! See what you can do.” And I would try my luck at finding some where there seemed none. The results were delicious and joyful. Just like the joy we shared at opening the next new jar and making the first plunge in the amply filled glass container. Whether we were challenged by scarcity or abundance, it didn’t matter. We were sharing the moment whatever it brought.
Much is written about Stephen Covey’s concept of “abundance mentality” vs “scarcity mentality.” I’ve blogged myself about one of my favorite words – enough, but I believe abundance is an even better descriptor of the best way to view life. Of course it takes imagination to face difficult circumstances, times when our jars of life seem empty. But the challenge is to see beyond what seems scarce to what yet remains. Sure empty will happen. But empty means we go in search of what comes next. Awareness of the undergirding joy of life is all that really matters.