I Took Candy From a Stranger

Candy From a Stranger, acrylic on paper by Julianna Paradisi 2022

Today I took candy from a stranger. 

I was finishing my morning run, waiting on a corner for the light to change. I was distracted by my thoughts of concern for a family member’s health. 

An elderly man with a walker approached the corner where I stood, also waiting to cross the street. 

This snapped me back into the present moment. I realized I was standing where the curb flattens for the disabled, blocking his way. I apologized and moved. 

He smiled, and then lifted his fist in a friendly manner, palm down. I thought he was asking for a fist bump, so I gave him one. Instead, he said, “No. Here, put out your hand.” 

I did as he asked. He dropped a piece of chocolate enclosed in a shiny wrapper into the palm of my hand. He smiled again.

Surprised, I stared at the candy and then back into his face. I sensed no guile. 

“Thank you.” 

Then the light changed. I crossed the street, holding the chocolate gingerly in one hand so it wouldn’t melt or crush, uncertain about what to do with it.

Since childhood, I was taught not to take candy from strangers.*

Four days before this encounter was Halloween, the annual holiday we encourage our children to dress in costume and knock on doors, asking for candy from strangers. On Halloween, the night of spooks, monsters, and goblins, it’s okay to take candy from strangers. 

Why is this piece of chocolate given to me by a stranger different from Halloween candy? Is it because I’m an adult woman, not wearing a costume? Why does he hand out chocolate candy to strangers on the streets of Portland? Is it a benevolent act of kindness? Does he wash his hands after visiting the restroom? Is this confection otherwise contaminated? How old is it? Do his plain clothes hide a proverbial goblin, in the same way an innocent child is concealed within a Halloween monster costume?

The context obscures the intention.

I took the candy from a stranger home. I gazed at it in my palm. It appeared innocent enough. But the world is not always safe; it never has been.

Discerning the shiny gift from a dangerous act is not always easy. Many of the things we are taught to believe as true are confusing, and that’s why life is hard. 

In the end, I heeded the warning voice from childhood, “Don’t take candy from strangers,” and threw away the chocolate.

But I choose to remember the kindness in the man’s eyes and his smile. He shared something nice with me when I was having a troubling moment.

Therein lies the sweetness.

*The phrase, “Don’t take candy from strangers,” is believed to refer to the 1874 kidnapping of three year-old Charley Ross. He and his six year-old brother were lured into a carriage by two men. It was the first known case of kidnapping for ransom in the United States. Charley was never found.

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