1996
The Little Bottle of Water
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“The Little Bottle of Water,” Ensign, Sept. 1996, 64–65

The Little Bottle of Water

I was on a ferryboat traveling between the Asian and European ports in Istanbul, Turkey. As the boat was about to depart, an elderly man carrying a meager lunch of a roll and some water in a plastic bottle sat down on the empty bench beside me. Watching the other boats in the harbor, I paid scant attention as he set down his roll and picked up the little bottle of water.

After a few minutes I realized he hadn’t yet begun to drink but was busily wiping the neck and top of the bottle. His efforts to clean the bottle struck me as a little amusing, if not a waste of time. Just when I thought he would be satisfied, he withdrew a ragged handkerchief from his pocket and proceeded to clean the bottle again. Suddenly the bottle slipped from his grasp and clattered to the deck. I leaned over to retrieve it for him, but he picked it up first. Now turned in his direction, I wondered if he would start the whole cleaning ritual over again.

Suddenly I saw and understood something I had missed before. Both of the man’s hands were badly deformed, with knobby stubs where his fingers should have been. The bottle’s tab opener was too small and tightly sealed for him to grab. He had spent all this time just trying to open his small bottle of water!

Quickly I leaned toward him and, in what little Turkish I knew, asked him if I could be of help. In spite of my bad grammar, he understood and gratefully handed me the bottle. It took me several moments to pry open the cap, for the little plastic tab eluded my fingers time and time again. At last I opened the bottle and handed it back to him. Then I quietly turned a bit to give him privacy while he ate his lunch.

The expression on my face was no longer one of amusement but one of disappointment in myself. A scripture came vividly to my mind about Samuel the prophet, who had sought to know whom to anoint as king and was told that “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Though my circumstances differed from Samuel’s, the words pierced my heart. I had assumed my vision was clear when in fact I had been blind to someone’s need.

Although the man may have forgotten that one small incident, it stands clear in my memory today as a lesson to me on judging others unrighteously. I thank our Heavenly Father for his teachings and the opportunity we have on this earth to learn from our errors, to repent, and to grow in spirit and in love.