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Jason Wright

August 08, 2012

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been thinking about chocolate covered cherries lately. The tiny treats have always symbolized my childhood Christmas mornings, and Mother always had several boxes scattered out on the counter when we came downstairs. We never had to ask if we could have one.

And, obviously, we never had just one.

So why are they on my mind in the heat of August? What has me thinking of them when Virginia’s smothering humidity reminds me every day that Christmas is months away?

It’s all about a good friend and a convenience store.

I’ve got a buddy who loves 7-11 and all of its convenient cousins. Is it an unhealthy affection? Tough to say, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he has a spare room in his home lined with maps of every 7-11, Handi-Mart and Exxon within a day’s drive.

When he walks in for a cold drink or quick snack, they don’t just call him by name. They ask about his kids and how his daughter did on last Friday’s spelling test.

I noticed a couple years ago that my friend also has a thing for chocolate covered cherries. Each time he visited a store that had them, or any of its individually wrapped siblings  -- York Peppermint Patty singles, caramels, tiny Reese Cups, etc. – he always bought a couple extras.

One of the extras always goes to me and I appreciate the kindness. But the real generosity happens at checkout.

“How are you today?” he asks the clerk.

Their replies are often predictable. “Eh... OK, I guess… Just another day…”

“That’s it?” he asks. “We can do better than that.”

They don’t usually reply with words, but their eyes say plenty.

“Here, I promise this will turn your day around.” He slides the candy he’s just bought back across the counter.

“Excuse me?” Even the clerks he knows well act surprised each time he treats them.

“Trust me,” he says, “nothing turns your day around like a chocolate covered cherry.”

They reach for it and slide it the rest toward them. There’s no fighting it; a smile finds their mouth.

“Thank you,” they say, often more than once. “Thanks very much. You didn’t have to.”

My pal winks, pops his own treat in his mouth and walks out.

I eat my freebie treat too and the conversation turns to sports, politics, work and all the other things guys talk about to feel relevant to one another.

Sometimes my friend repeats the same scene on the same day at another location. I’ve been present for many of these chocolate covered cherry miracles. But how many have I missed?

I wonder how much money my friend has spent serving others in this small way. At 25 cents each, it can’t be much. I wonder if he’s bought 100 of these tasty gifts. More? 400? Even that lofty number would amount to just $100 over the span of years I’ve known him.

But it’s not the money, is it?

Like all other acts of the service, it’s the message. For a few seconds every time he walks into gas station or convenience store he send the unmistakable message to those who wait on him that they are not alone.

He speaks with action and with his gift of time. He says to them, “I see you. You’re not alone. You’re important. I don’t care where you work, or what you look like.” He practically shouts: “You matter!”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone step into your life, especially on the days you wish would end early, and look you in the eyes with that powerful message?

“You matter!”

My friend isn’t naïve and neither am I. We know that a 25 cent treat doesn’t solve life’s serious problems. It doesn’t help someone find a new job, cure family illness, or return the prodigal son.

But it just might make all those things seem more possible.

When life gets tough, when days seem bigger than our spirit, having someone look us in the eye and remind us we’re not alone could be the greatest gift of all.

I’m grateful that after so many visits to our favorite watering holes, I’m finally paying attention to my friend’s cherry chocolate miracles. I can’t wait to start performing my own. Come to think of it, I think I'll hit 7-11 on the way home tonight.

How about you?