The South Americans and Europeans insist we know as little of chocolate as we do of cheese, us being the bastardly source of both snickers and velveeta. For chocolate, the Parisian-bred Mexican tells me most solemnly, is not to be sullied with milk or sugar but instead taken pure and hot, cut simply with water and with reverence for the origins of the earth from which it sprouted.
What steams from my cup came from a field in Ecuador upon which bananas grew for generations before the cacao. Despite a faintly yellow warmth its taste is velvet black, a straight-backed presence in my mouth that’s more a sucker punch than a kiss.
I peel myself off the floor and the chocolatier offers a plate of amuse-bouches, tiny pastries, telling me that is the only way the sweet belongs. The bitter must be bigger than the sweet and we stand on a black and white checkered floor in Yaletown as layers of sugar flake and melt on our tongues, a counterpoint.
These lives are tougher to drink than they ought to be. Like true chocolate they are by nature extraordinarily granted, and rich with health, and shelter, and breath, and blessings. But we forget, overwhelmed by the jolt of it.
Shouldn’t this be sweeter? This ought to be sweeter. This is supposed to be exquisite and I’m choking it back. There is AIDS in Africa and cancer in 35-year-old mothers and oh my god, no. Not another cold sore. I can’t take it. I look like I’ve had half my face eaten off by zombies. The universe hates me. I am not leaving the house for a week.
On top of that herpeous lip we might pile I am a shallow, ungrateful idiot because the enormity of our blessings never seems to stick. Enter the guilt.
Some of you have mothers who have forgotten you in a thrashing tantrum. Some of you were abandoned, or are haunted by having abandoned someone else. Some of you stare into mirrors with loathing. What we all share is a brain that can only accommodate a maximum of three minutes (+/-) per day of conscious awareness, of the internalizing of swollen-bellied Sudanese and Indonesian sweatshops and inconceivable babies and dying babies—of all those souls who lack our chances, or our resources, or our time.
I land somewhere in the gaping void between zen buddhist monk and entitled, selfish prick. With permission to sway precariously back and forth.
I bow my head at the trauma of others—and at my own past—in the hopes that the karmic bankers will note my humility and put a mark in the plus column. But can I sustain it, this constant bowed head, this unfailing gratitude? One baby lived. One baby died. I should have enough fodder for more than three minutes per day of reverence. And yet I disqualify myself from a karmic gold star, breaking today as I will tomorrow to despair the loss of my juicy juicy mangoes.
I can’t always figure out which is the sweet and which is the bitter, and maybe that’s exactly as it’s meant to be.