The cigarette on the roof

When the door bell pulled me from a deep sleep this morning, a rainy gray Saturday, I rushed to the door, pulling on my sweater on the way there.

A young man asked if he could use our electricity to fix the carport roof. Sure, I mumbled, half-asleep. He walked up the stairs to talk face-to-face, and in cute embarrassment turned around apologizing when he saw I wasn't wearing pants. I'll never understand the embarrassment surrounding people wearing underwear. It shows the same amount of skin (probably less) than a bikini or swim suit. But I diverge.

A few minutes later, I was back in my room and saw him working on the roof of the carport from my bedroom window. With delight, I realized that the noisy plastic I had considered unfixable was not just fixed but gone. I opened my window and we talked a bit about the issue and another issue I thought unfixable, a cigarette lit in his mouth.

We agreed that he'd check out the noisy rain pipe while he was at it. And then, as if in slow motion, I saw him look around and throw his cigarette onto our carport roof.

"Please take that with you," I said in a nice voice fully aware that most smokers have no clue that cigarettes are actually an issue.

He bends to pocket it and jokes, "Yeah, otherwise twenty liters of potable water get dirty."

Quoting statistics as a joke while doing the very thing that harms the environment. Great. I had found a smoker who was very aware of the issue and decided it didn't matter.

Later, we talked again while he fixed the rain pipe. He explained that he had learned at school that there are so much bigger fish to fry and the climate would be down the drain in fifteen to twenty years anyway. He explained that there was no chance of turning it around anyway.

I quoted the Living Planet Report at him and told him that there was still a chance to change things. He listened. He asked about my work. He pocketed the second cigarette without even glancing at me.

When he left, he thanked me for the enlightening conversation, and promised he would think about what he called his bad behavior. While I'm sure that his next cigarette will be on the ground again, I am also sure, he'll feel guilty about it. And maybe, just maybe, that guilt will take root.

One smoker at a time might not make much of a difference, but as the Germans say:

"Kleinvieh macht auch Mist."

It roughly translates to "Small animals poop, too."—and leave a mess to clean up. Our small actions and gestures might seem like tiny steps in the right directions. But they are tiny steps in the right direction. We are moving. We are walking. And maybe, just maybe, someone will see us walk and come along.

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand is the writer behind the essays here, author of fiction novels, the creator of the Kate Hildenbrand podcast, and a student of marine ecology. At least, that's her on the surface.