The bubbler at the gym had been off all night, so I let it run for a few seconds to clear the warm water in the pipes and get to the ice cold flow.
I hate cold showers, so I let gallons of water run until the stream is nice and hot.
My wife didn't drink her bottled water yesterday, so I pour the old, "bad" water into the sink and fill the bottle with a cool, clean supply from the refrigerator.
I brush my teeth and let the water run between spits.
The automatic toilet at my workplace is broken, and gallons of water spiral down the pipes for hours until a facilities worker repairs a valve.
I pour 6 liters of water daily on my decorative plants to help them survive the summer heat.
My town flushes thousands of gallons of water through the city pipes to remove the rust from the fire lines.
A young girl in South Sudan walks four miles to a contaminated pond, twice a day, to carry a few gallons of water to sustain her family.
I have been thinking about water since 1973 when I first heard a challenge to the habit of letting the waster run uselessly while we brush our teeth. At the time, I felt guilty about the waste. But I came to realize that "waste" is a relative term. In the water-rich Northeast US, we don't have to preserve every drop of water to survive. We can use the hose to clear the dirt off our stairs. We can spray water into the air and enjoy the pretty patterns. We can build amusement parks where we slide and slip through the stuff on a hot day. Building an infrastructure to divert water from where it is (my region) to where it isn't (South Sudan, California) is criminally expensive. Even in the technology-saturated 21st century, it's still infinitely cheaper and easier to move people to where the water is than water to the people.
I am not unmindful that people don't normally choose to live where there is so little water. The water-carrying girl from South Sudan was driven from her home by the forces of war and greed. It's human evil, not human stupidity or bull-headedness, that puts people at risk of dehydration.
I can't do much for the South Sudanese. I can't personally send them water. I can't stop the war that drives them away from their homes. I can't build them a well. I could take my chances and donate to one of the many charities that claim to help. But I can't be sure my money will reach the needy. I can commiserate with them from afar. I can offer my prayers. All fairly useless from the point of view of practical aid. But for some reason, I am drawn to think of folks like the South Sudanese girl every time I open the tap for an easy drink, or turn on the dishwasher, or pay my "exorbitant" water bill. What is so easy for me is such a daily struggle for her. The least I can do is suffer with her in my small way. I can at least not turn her out of my thoughts.
I only hope that is enough when I am asked what I did for "the least of these."