It’s the simple things in life that bring the most pleasure. A walk on the beach. Wind through the front porch chimes. Lightning bugs. The smell of fresh-cut grass. Watching the flames in the firepit. A PBJ.

You can learn a lot from a PBJ.

There’s not a more honest sandwich out there. Combining peanuts churned to a creamy spread and grapes gelatinized to a wiggly mass and spread over bread, the staff of life, it is a work of culinary genius. Simple, healthy, a virtual food pyramid that you can hold in your hand – protein, fruit and carbs. Wash it down with a glass of milk and you aren’t missing much from the food groups.

As a child I loved a slightly smashed and sticky PBJ on white bread, stuffed into a baggie and included in my field-trip brown-bag lunch. By the time the class paused for lunch at the museum or zoo it was a warm and juicy – and delicious – mess. A PBJ is the stuff of childhood memories and one of the few foods I could make myself without adult interference.

Enter two-and-a-half-year-old grandson Arthur.

Now, Arthur has a limited toddler palate. He will generally eat anything from the cheese family like mac & cheese or cottage cheese or just slices of cheese. Beyond that and lunchtime can be a bit of a challenge when he’s hanging out at our house. But, like most kids, he will entertain a PBJ. Since we use whole-wheat bread at our house we are safe in the delusion that it’s a healthy choice for him. And he keeps growing so it must be okay. But even the PBJ gets pushed around the plate on occasion.

Unless he made it himself.

A grandmother is an amazing thing and Arthur’s (my wife) is really special. When we had our own kids, you’d make lunch and keep them out of the kitchen. But now Grandma pulls up a chair for Arthur to stand on and lets him spread his own peanut butter, smear his own jelly and even cut the resulting concoction into strips or squares. That last part gave me pause (it was a rather large knife) but Grandma had complete control of the knife and at no time were his little fingers in danger (so don’t worry mom). When finished the entire kitchen counter is devastated, as if I had prepared a dinner party for twelve hungry guests. There is peanut butter smeared across the counter, jelly hanging from the light fixture, slices of crust piled on the floor. The remarkable thing is that Arthur will eat every bite of the sandwich that he made himself.

“I made my own lunch” he told me.

Indeed he did, and I was struck by a simple truth: a person enjoys the thing he made, the process he completed, the goal he attained. Because he did it himself. It turns out that humans take great pleasure in enjoying the rewards of their labor. While I could turn this into a screed on the value of work ethic and the plight of the welfare class, I won’t, but rather want to just revel in the moment of self-discovery, when a child (a toddler!) discovers that his own labor produces something good. That’ll preach, as they say.

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him today. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

That quote, and many derivatives, has a long and storied history. Some attribute it to eighteenth century writing, others to Maimonides, still others to Native American folklore. The oldest instance of a reasonable version is from the fourth century Chinese founder of Taoism, Lau Tzu. Regardless the origination is the fact that throughout history that simple wisdom has been preached – teach a skill, pass on a trade, enable a willing worker and they will ultimately take care of themselves. And society as a whole will be a better place for it.

All that from a PBJ.

If we listen and watch, most of what is important can be gained from the simple discoveries and resultant wisdom of children. Everything is new to them, uncorrupted, nonpartisan, without spin. Maybe we should aspire to getting in touch with our own child-like self, making a mess of the kitchen counter while discovering great truths. Maybe we should stop spending so much time over-analyzing the world around us and return to the sweet and simple ideals of childhood. Jesus thought so:

For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.Matthew 18:2-5, The Message

I know there is nothing you want more right now than a PBJ of your own making. Go ahead, be a child again. Enjoy!

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