So I walk out of the bank at the corner of Union and Cabarrus and I cross the street heading down-slope toward my office, when I pass the Chocolatier and I have to stop right here.
The first thing you need to know about the Chocolatier is that they make the finest chocolate I have found in this area. The chef is from Lyons, France (note that, Mark) and that itself bodes well, since everybody knows European confections, especially chocolate, are vastly superior to the excessive American treats that spill from our spoiled children’s pockets.
Go inside and you’ll see a clean, tidy, almost formal looking space with glass cases at the far end and on the right. Look to the right and you’ll see marscapone, canoli (without a gun), fruit tarts, chocolate mousse, and all sorts of world-transcending treats whose names I’ve never heard and therefore can’t remember.
Proceed to the end cabinet and you’ll see turtles that turn “mouth-watering” into an empty phrase, white chocolate covered cashews with exactly the right sweetness to balance the flavors, and, yes, they also have this, marzipan that would make the Holy Roman Emperor offer his horse.
So there I was, walking past the Chocolatier, exercising an almost morbid ascetism, when suddenly the body of a man hurled itself onto the sidewalk (with the man still inside) almost on top of me. I casually drifted to my right and glanced up at him, decided he was safe, and greeted him with my most cheerful and eloquent, “That’s a great place, isn’t it?”
By now we were stepping briskly side by side down the sidewalk, but I could tell he wasn’t altogether certain what to make of me. “But they don’t have what I’m here for,” he replied, in that partly mock, partly serious aggrieved tone that defines the disappointed self-indulgent shopper.
“Really,” said I, concerned both for my new friend and for my favorite local business. “What’s that?”
“Canolli,” he said.
“Eugh,” I stammered. Disbelief triumphed over my disciplined lingual tones and was defeated in turn by concern for my favorite shop. “But they have great chocolate there,” I blurted in their defense, at which point my new friend fell off pace in that tactful way we have of losing nuisances around here.
So on I walked, feeling friendly and feline, when suddenly, while I focused innocently forward doing my best to avoid the occasional bench and bike and local layabout, a thought sped its way like Iris from the peaceful clouds above my head and formed itself into something almost clear.
“That man talked to me,” I thought. “How very unusual that would be in many places. Yet, I could see in the caution and reserve he showed that he had been infected by the suspicion that defines conventional casual relationships. But I tend not to find that with older people from these parts. Why is that?”
Then I realized that things have changed around here. People have migrated in. Northerners have brought their business practices. Banks have centralized. Virtually every relationship in the modern world is or starts as a business relationship, at least among adults.
We go to bars (think, Cheers) or church to find more natural relationships. And there’s that dang word again.
What are these business relationships? These networks we’re part of? They’re utilitarian relationships.
Aristotle described them in his Nicomachaean Ethics and CS Lewis described them in his Four Loves. They’re relationships in which each party hopes to get something from the other.
They’re also natural. But they’re unnaturally constrained when they’re business relationships. I have no problem with an honest business relationship. I have a problem when a society is dominated by them. I have a serious problem when they are the pattern employed by our leaders.
Even in our relationships, utility triumphs over nature.
We need to relearn how to love. Agape. Phileo. Storge. Eros. We hardly know any of them.
Look to Jesus.