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Peanut Butter Sandwiches

“Life is hard,” my grandma would tell me. “Eventually someone will hurt you. When that happens, you get to decide: will you fight back or will you forgive? It’s up to you, what will you do?”

When I was a kid, I played baseball with my friends in the field behind my grandma’s house. We played all day, from sunup to sundown, and whenever there was a break in the action everyone gathered at my grandma’s porch for her “world-famous” peanut butter sandwiches. These were a thing of beauty. A single piece of toast with a thin layer of peanut butter spread on top. Simple enough. But what made it special was she wrote your name into the peanut butter so you knew who’s was who’s. Big kids, little kids, even the new kids down the street. She got everyone right. Always. Grandmas are good at that, aren’t they?

One day, we went down to our field to play but no one could find a ball. “No problem,” I said. I knew my grandma had one. I’d seen it every week at Sunday dinner for years, sitting in a plastic case on her bookshelf. I went up to her house, took the ball from its case, and went back down to the field to play. A little while later, Grandma came out and asked to see the ball.

What I didn’t know was this ball was a gift from my Granpda. He’d got it signed by Ted Kluszewski, my grandma’s favorite major league baseball player, when he was on a business trip to St Louis. Grandpa was so excited to give it to her … but … he never got the chance. Grandpa died in his hotel room. They found the ball in his suitcase; his last gift to her. When I held it up, you could see the ball was covered in dirt and scuff marks. The signature was all but gone. And when I handed it to my grandma, she started to cry.

Life is hard. Eventually someone will hurt you. I heard that speech hundreds of times growing up, but I never thought I would be the one to do the hurting.

The next day, when everyone went up for their sandwiches, I hung back, sat by myself on the swing set next to the field. I couldn’t go in, not after what I’d done. I was too ashamed. Grandma came out a few minutes later, sat on the swing next to me and didn’t say a word.

“I’m sorry, Grandma,” I said. “I know,” she said. “I have something for you.”

And she handed me a plate with two peanut butter sandwiches on it. The first one said my name. The second, “I forgive you.” I took that sandwich like communion and smiled. Grandma smiled too, and just like that, everything was alright.

Sitting on that swing set with peanut butter and toast catching at the corners of my mouth, I felt firsthand the power of forgiveness. All the guilt I felt, all the pain I caused went away in an instant with those three little words: I forgive you. And it felt like freedom.

Forgiveness is sticky, like a peanut butter sandwich. It stays with you. This lesson has been me my whole life, but it’s only been these last few years that I’ve learned how truly beautiful forgiveness can be.

There had been an accident. Grandma was out driving, on her way to the library, when someone ran a stop light at twice the speed limit and broadsided her. The other driver, a college kid named Amanda, walked away from the accident. My grandma broke her neck. She died almost instantly.

Losing someone you love is hard, isn’t it?

My mom struggled. For months she couldn’t sleep, fought with depression, had even taken to stalking Amanda on the Internet. “She got another speeding ticket,” she’d say. “She’s on facebook,” she’d say. “Have you seen these pictures? Why does she get to be happy?”

Mom just couldn’t let go.

Then one day the local high school held a traffic safety seminar and Amanda was the speaker. Mom went. She planned to sit in the back, not say anything, but that changed when Amanda got up to speak.

The worst part, Amanda said, wasn’t losing her license, or the nightmares, or the physical problems she suffered. The worst part was knowing she had taken someone’s friend, someone’s mother, someone’s grandma.

“What would you say if you could talk to her today?” one of the kids asked.

“I’d tell her I’m sorry,” Amanda said. “I’d tell her I’m sorry, and I’d never stop.”

What my mom saw that day was Grandma’s death weighed on Amanda, too. She was miserable. She’d been sitting all alone on her OWN swing set for a very long time, only now there was no one to come out, sit next to her, and make it all better.

Afterward, mom introduced herself. “The woman you killed was my mother,” mom said. Amanda lowered her head in shame, but mom didn’t stop there. “I heard what you said, and if SHE were here, she’d want you to have this.”

Mom reached into her purse and pulled out two peanut butter sandwiches. The first one said Amanda. The second, ”I forgive you.” Amanda took that sandwich like communion and smiled. Mom smiled too, and just like that, everything was alright. They couldn’t bring my grandma back, but both women could finally move on. That’s what forgiveness does. It lets you move on. It helps you let go.

Forgiveness is sticky. Like a peanut butter sandwich, it gets all over everything. When you have it, you can’t help but share it, and that’s what my grandma did. That’s what she left us: a beautiful legacy of forgiveness for me, my friends on the baseball field, my family, even Amanda. And now we share that legacy with you.

Life is hard. Eventually someone will hurt you. When that happens, you get to decide: will you fight back, or will you share the power of forgiveness and peanut butter sandwiches?

I hope you go with the sandwiches. They taste so much better.

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