The Power of a Sandwich

Why is it that something as simple as a ham sandwich tastes so much more delicious when prepared by someone else?

I was on a routine visit to “Mary” in her sparse apartment.  Mary was a 69-year-old, never married woman disabled by a heart attack and stroke two years prior.  Before I left, she insisted that since it was nearly lunchtime, she would make me something to eat so “you don’t have to buy yourself anything.”

We held hands—my left in her right—while I ate my sandwich, a thin slice of pressed ham, a slice of cheese, and just a bit of mayo between two slices of cheap wheat bread on a small, round paper plate.  I swear to God that was the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten!

So why is it that something as simple as a ham sandwich could taste so delicious?  Could love be the secret ingredient?

The seniors for whom we provide in-home assistance sometimes feel that they are always the recipients of our acts of kindness and never able to give back.   It’s not easy to be unable to give back in some way; it makes a person feel “less than” after a while, and it makes for an unequal relationship.

I am not talking about accepting unethical monetary compensation or the acceptance of expensive gifts here.  I simply know that eating the sandwich, whether I was hungry or not, whether it was a part of my usual diet or not, meant a great deal to Mary.  It was her way of showing appreciation, her way to maintain dignity and her status as a regular human being versus being just a needy client, and her way of retaining her role as a contributing member of society.

Everybody needs to feel useful, needed, and appreciated.  And with the giving of the sandwich, Mary became exactly that.

—Julie Ellingson, LSW


Tags: , , ,

Comments (2)


  1. Jo Klein says:

    What a touching, powerful story! A perfect depitction of dignity. Kudos.

  2. Mollie Lund says:

    Thank you for sharing that story. It reminds us all about the importance of being human.

Leave a Reply