This urinal can’t swallow the cigarette someone flicked in it.
Saddest, wettest, shreddingest cigarette butt I ever hope to see, for the moisture that swells the tobacco’s not water alone. And the filter’s a sponge. And tendrils of brown bleed across the porcelain.
Sad cigarette. Sadder custodian. . . .
Yet saddest of all, I believe, is the man who first dropped his butt here in a public place. This one is benighted. This one cannot—or will not—comprehend the consequences. Can’t see that at the end of even his slightest act there always stands another, one whom he will scorn and trouble and cut, or else will love, by the act.
This fellow, this contemptuous flicker of cigarettes—however well he dresses, however solemnly he sits in his own church pew, however commanding, powerful, arrogant, smiling, self-satisfied, well-married, and prudent—can nevertheless not claim before God that he loves his neighbor as he loves himself, for he did not love my friend. He visited upon her a moment of moist, unnecessary misery.
This is the acid test. Do you love Christ Jesus? (Which question embraces this next one): Do you love the real manifestations of the Christ in the world around you? (Which question is the same as asking): Do you love the Body of Christ, the people whom Jesus loves? (Which question is made sharpest and purest in the following): How do you love the ones you do not meet, who cannot punish or reward you, blame or praise you, or in any way make the action anything more than the unvarnished (spontaneous) revelation of your natural self?
True love arises from the self alone, yours and mine, unqualified and free. Is it love when some threat drives me to it, or some payoff persuades me? A goodness given for a goodness gotten is a business transaction. No blame in that. No love either.
At the end of our least act, still affected by that act (for the world is shaped much more by the millions little gestures than by the more glorious res gestae of human accomplishment) stands another. Always. And that human was made in the image of God.
It is a radical truth that the Christ identifies much more with “the least of these” than with those of weight and repute in the world. “Radical,” I say, because such a downward identification is a flat reversal of the way we choose to identify: upward, to those admirable, to those whose station flattens ours, whose power might empower us. We would be heroes. Jesus is the stranger. He is, in our common existence, the sick and the imprisoned.
How do we (as we will so often proclaim we do) love Jesus? With what attention and genuine love do we attend to the invisible people?
When I lean on the car horn loud and long, whose peace do I destroy? And how do I justify my anger now? Do I know the rules of the road better than the gentlewoman driving precisely the limit in front of me? And which of us is nearer the heart of Christ at this moment? And where is love?
When I neglect to signal a left-hand turn I neglect the driver behind me who might have gone forward in the right lane, had he known of my intentions. But he has snuggled up to the back of my bumper, as has the driver behind him, and so all must now wait with me the oncoming traffic, drivers and drivers and Christ as well. (Or did I suppose that holiness rode in my vehicle alone?)
When I break the myriad little promises I make in a day (many of them made just to get rid of some persistent person) I break faith. I break my word. And though my word meant nothing to me, to my lessers it was the food of hope. Yes, and if the littlest things I drop my bond and word thoughtlessly, like a butt in a urinal, in the greater, more “important” things that word will still be stinking of the urinal.
Laugh once at a racial joke, and I’ve laughed at the skin of the Son of God, whose chose to come enfleshed.
O man! When you speak of your wife as a fool, a ditz, a smiling second to your own great self, you shoot out the lip of your Savior. Do you not yet know that Christ both approaches you and tests you in your spouse? Woman, you cannot dimmish his native interests without reducing his Creator (and yours) to the bozo you think your husband is.
If, by loud sighs and significant looks and angry gestures, you declare the old man ahead of you in the grocery line—you have lost patience with Elisha, the bald-headed prophet of God.
Complain about the children in your neighborhood whose noise unnerves you—or about your own children, whose energy leaves you both angry and exhausted, febrile—and you have complained about those whom Jesus suffered into his presence, saying, “Of such is the kingdom of God.”
And what of your father and mother when they descend into their dotage? (Teenagers often suspect that their parents have already entered the Fuddy stage, prelude to Duddy, by far the worse of the two.) If you despise them because of your vaster knowledge, your greater experience, your more contemporary ethic, your cooler view of life, you despise the instruments by which the Creator created you. Can you risk chopping the tree on which you are the fruit?
And surely you wouldn’t assume that the only way to rate an employee is by her efficiency. Surely you would not cancel all the rest of this human by the stroke of your executive pen? But “cancel” means “kill” in affairs of the spirit.
Do you recognize that your mood at work is the very air your coworkers breathe? By which, in eight hours, in weeks and in the passage of years, they may thrive or else may suffocate?
Toss your fast-food wrappers on the highway.
Toss beers cans in the river.
Toss trash, the detritus of your burned-out desires; toss the very souls of those you use and lose; toss these wherever others do not see you, in the dark, in the night, in your unacknowledged solitude, away.
Toss a cigarette butt in a urinal, and you have made my dear friend miserable one more time, and she is the least of these, the sisters of Jesus.
And shall you rise in church tomorrow protesting your love for the Lord?
But we are more accurately revealed in the unconscious, habitual act than in acts we plan and for which we pay. In the former our truer nature dwells, and by it is made most manifest.
I am not writing of democracy. I’m not begging a political equality of all individuals. I am begging rather the coming of the kingdom of heaven, whose citizens we are when we elevate the least to that same citizenship.
I am writing of love.
For at the end of every deed stands the Master—cleaning urinals.