In a hurry during a recent trip, I stopped at a Wendy’s for a quick meal. As I left the counter with my tray I looked for the condiments station where I could get some ketchup. Finding it, I walked over and waited for the person in front of me to finish. From behind she appeared to be a young girl, perhaps eleven or twelve, and she seemed to be taking a long time presumably filling up a small paper cup with ketchup.
I was in a hurry, and after all it was supposed to be fast food. I remained patient for another thirty seconds or so, and then she turned around to depart. I immediately saw the cause of the delay. Both of her hands were severely deformed, with several fingers missing and those that remained each shorter than an inch long. Neither hand was able to grip the cups of ketchup, but as she walked away she somehow balanced three cups on the tops of her wrists. How she filled them with ketchup I cannot explain: I saw the pump going up and down and her arms moving, but I could not see past her body to fully observe her technique.
I watched her walk to a table where her mother, father, and little brother waited. Her timing was perfect. They had all just opened up their sandwiches and fries and were ready to add ketchup. She placed the three cups in the middle of the table, sat down, and began to unwrap her own sandwich.
As I walked to my table and sat down to eat, the realization struck me. This young woman had discerned a need, identified the ability to meet it, and worked at perfecting a technique to do so. She then shared that ability with her family. In doing so she made a real contribution to the family meal. Like anyone who is significantly handicapped in some way, she had no choice but to focus on her strengths and abilities and to deal with life only from there. Her situation directed her to identify what she had, what she could do, and what positive attributes she could develop and then share. She did not have the luxury to compare herself to others. It was a waste of time for her to wonder if someone else in the family could get the ketchup faster, or with less effort, and an equal waste to examine how difficult for her was the task just completed. I looked across the room to her table and saw a content family of four, conversing back and forth between bites of their food.
Those of us who are not handicapped or severely limited in some way often concern ourselves too much with how we compare to others, how others seem to do specific things better than us, and how we may not measure up in various ways. Far better if we instead thought about the innate abilities and positive attributes we have, and worked to cultivate those into strengths and virtues as best we can.
The young woman at Wendy’s had done this without a true choice in the matter, and had cultivated a remarkable skill. We who have choice would be wise to follow her lead.