Leave it to someone like me to look for the spiritual meaning in chocolate.
On Thursday morning – after months of planning, preparation, and packing – our flight was, we were told, making its final approach to the Zurich airport. We would soon be arriving to start an exciting new chapter of our lives in Switzerland.
Around me disheveled people who had spent the night sleeping awkwardly in their narrow economy seats were beginning to stir, doing their best to look presentable after the long flight. Cabin lights came on, and flight attendants who hadn’t been seen in a few hours were now moving quickly up and down the aisles.
Then something happened that I had witnessed on previous flights, but had never thought much about. The flight attendants were passing out chocolate. Not a lot, but a tiny square wrapped in foil with the iconic Swiss white cross on top.
I looked around and saw most people unwrapping their chocolates and eating, which is what I did. A few put theirs in a carry-on bag, presumably to enjoy later or to share with children and grandchildren. But I became unmistakably aware in that moment of a deeply spiritual event.
A few years earlier I had flown to the Philippines as part of a Habitat for Humanity construction team. On the approach to the Manila airport, people around me were growing noticeably excited. Faces were pressed up against cabin windows to catch a glimpse … of what I wasn’t sure. It was dark. And after so many hours of flying, crossing the dateline and even landing briefly in Japan, I didn’t know if it was nearly dawn or early evening. I didn’t care.
But the people around me did. And when the wheels touched down, the entire cabin erupted in cheers and applause. A few older people near me held tissues to their eyes, mopping up tears. I had never seen a group of people so thrilled to have landed, to be – I could plainly see – home.
The Swiss people around me on Thursday morning were not noticeably excited about our approach to the Zurich airport. They did not press their faces against the cabin windows. I’ve read enough to know that Swiss people do not become noticeably excited about very much, certainly not about a plane approaching a runway. For the Swiss being reserved is something of a proud national trait.
But in the chocolate I sensed something remarkable.
I hope it’s not irreverent to suggest that there was a feeling of communion in that moment. The chocolate was clearly meant to evoke a memory, to remind us – even those of us who weren’t Swiss – about our identity. This is what it means, we were told, to be Swiss.
No matter who you are, they seemed to say, no matter how long you’ve been away, no matter how much you may have forgotten about your home, this tiny square of chocolate will remind you of all you need to know.
It’s good to be here at long last. And even though I was raised to believe that Dutch chocolate is the finest the world has ever known, I was glad to be included in that communion service on Thursday morning.
And as with that other kind of communion, I’m already looking forward to more.