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A Ukrainian In The Chocolate Shop

A Ukrainian In The Chocolate Shop

Hello and good day!

In addition to giving our best effort day in and day out to bring delicious chocolate into the world, our company also sends out a daily email. My only motivation in writing it is to give something extra at no charge.

Some days I make up a little story. Other days I report on things that happen in real life around our neighborhood, with the hope of illuminating an interesting aspect of human nature.

And sometimes I write about cacao and chocolate and Peru and how our business operates.

All of it is with the genuine desire to add value. During the summer, we don't ship very much chocolate. These emails don't generate much revenue this time of year. There are a few brave souls who continue to order chocolate from us even in the heat, and if you are one of them, I send you my most heartfelt thank you.

I realize that not everything I send out is scintillating, but I do my best with no ulterior motives. Just trying to give what I can.

Along those lines, I'd like to offer up a conversation I had with a wonderful Ukrainian customer two days ago.

One of the great things about owning retail locations is we get to see and hear from people face to face. I get a lot of firsthand information this way. A while back I made peace with the fact that I can only truly be an expert on a couple of topics.

Something about the way the modern news cycle and social media work makes people think they can know everything about everything.

You get hit nonstop with blurbs and headlines about a million different topics. And then we walk around thinking we know something about a topic because we saw a headline. I don't like operating in that way and so I mostly tune out the news.

In general, I refrain from offering a strong opinion on any issue I don't know a lot about. I've been doing that for over a decade, and I believe that it has served me well. It keeps me out of arguments, and it keeps me from looking like a blow hard.

When COVID hit, I asked a neighbor of mine who has proved himself to be a high integrity person, and who runs a big hospital, what he thought I should do. He gave me advice and I followed it. This way, I sidestepped all the opinion pieces and received firsthand knowledge from somebody who I consider to be an expert.

Likewise, I haven't followed any of the reporting on the war in Ukraine. We know from operating our business what the war has done to supply chains and shipping prices.

But as far as boots on the ground information about what is going on, I've relied entirely on firsthand reports from our customers.

Two days ago, a young woman who is a regular customer, age 30, and her friend came into the shop. I recognized the customer, but not her friend. The woman's husband is one of our all-time biggest fans and she and her husband are always extremely complimentary, and we love them for it.

The friend who came along didn't speak any English. Being the inquisitive person I am, I asked if the friend was in town on vacation. Our customer shook her head and immediately teared up. She fought back tears, calmed herself, and then spoke.

"She is a refugee from the invasion," she said.

Even though I could see it would be a difficult conversation, I decided to proceed with caution and try to obtain some information.

"May I ask you something about the war?" I asked. "Yes, it is ok," she said.

"How has it affected your family?" I asked.

She choked up again. "They're still there. My brothers are fighting, and my parents are doing what they can to contribute. I asked them if they wanted to come to the United States, but they decided to stay and fight," she said.

"Can I ask something else?" I asked. "Yes, go ahead," she said.

"As a Ukrainian, what do you think this war is all about? Why did Russia invade?" I asked. I asked this because when the war first broke out, there were many different explanations given as to Putin's true intentions. I wanted to know what a Ukrainian with family members fighting in the war thought.

This isn't my opinion here. This is what she told me.

"Ukraine was a part of the USSR. When it collapsed, Ukraine declared its independence. A lot of countries were involuntarily under communist rule. It isn't right to say that Ukraine has always been part of Russia, as Putin claims. For a very long time, the Ukrainians considered themselves to be their own people and when we could, we wanted to be free," she said.

"So, what is the ultimate goal?" I asked.

"We believe that Putin wants to reestablish the USSR," she said.

"May I ask another question?" I asked. "Yes, you can," she said.

"How will this all end?" I asked.

She shook her head. Her eyes watered. She pursed her lips and put her hand to her mouth. "I don't know. All of eastern Ukraine is destroyed. It is completely ruined. And for what? Because one man wants to rule over us? There is nobody in his country who can stop him. He can keep going as long as he wants," she said.

We all stood in silence. I wanted to say something comforting, but there is nothing a person can say in a moment like that.

Other customers walked in.

The two women sat on a bench in the corner of our shop, drinking free hot chocolate.

I attended to the other customers and then the Ukrainian husband walked in. He was in a good mood and ate free samples and we talked about chocolate.

His wife shook off the gloom and perked up. Their friend seemed to be enjoying herself. I could see it on her face.

That got me to thinking about how there can still be light even when times are dark.

These three people are walking around at all times knowing that their family is in harm's way and that their homeland is being decimated with no end in sight.

But they still want to be happy too. They have to deal with the hardship. It is inescapable. However, they also desire and search out reprieve.

It can't be all darkness all the time, or life is not worth living.

So, they bounce back and forth. They compartmentalize.

It is the world's greatest honor for us to be an escape hatch when people are going through difficult times in their life. It is a role that we feel privileged to play. And now you have some firsthand reporting on what Ukrainian folks think about the war.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!