For nearly two years, three tiny Tootsie Rolls have made their home in the console of my car, nestled among a pile of pennies. I can no more bring myself to eat them than to throw them away. Every time I try to do either, I remember.
My son and I were headed east to visit colleges. We’d stopped for lunch at a Panera a couple of hours away from home, where an old man tottered through the restaurant, handing out cheer and Tootsie Rolls. He was just trying to brighten people’s day, making even the grumpiest adults giggle like children when he placed his candy in their hands. I loved it.
When we headed back to our car, I noticed my son carefully place his candies on a ledge outside the restaurant. I scooped them up, afraid that the old man might see, and hopped in the car.
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“I’m not going to take candy from someone I don’t know,” explained my son.
Oof. The wind went out of me.
Apparently all those don’t-take-candy-from-strangers harangues when he was a kid actually stuck with him. Mom win, right?
At the same time, I felt sad. Had he missed the joy of the moment? Do we find ourselves in a world where even the smallest gestures of goodwill must be rejected for safety’s sake? Would I have let a seven-year-old take the candy I was so willing to let a seventeen-year-old eat? There was lesson in here somewhere, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.
I’m still not sure what it is, actually. There are so many options. Don’t take candy from strangers. Take joy in the small things. Be careful. Be grateful.
I can’t throw away those three chocolate tidbits because I don’t know which lesson is the right one. Somehow, they both have merit, and neither claims victory over the other. Maybe the lesson is found in the balance.
And so they remain, giving me something to chew on every time I see them.