My friend’s experience was in a more impressive setting than the two experiences I remembered from years ago. The first occurred when I was just a kid. One of my chores was watering the lawn. I had just finished running water in the shrubs and bent down to turn off the outdoor faucet. Don’t know why I lingered for a moment, crouching down, looking at the tap but, as I did, a last drop of water slowly formed on the bottom edge.
I looked at that drop of water in a way I had never looked at anything before. Saw it—how to describe it?—in its full presence, its suchness, its integrity as an independent existent in the community of being. When I later read in Buber about seeing Nature as a Thou, this experience came to mind. It was not as if the drop of water had a mind or soul or was looking back at me or anything like that. But I no longer saw it as merely an it, merely an item in the inventory of the universe. I saw the drop of water as, in a sense, a member of what Immanuel Kant calls the Kingdom of Ends—the community of all beings who should be respected as ends-in-themselves, not just means for the use of others. This is, of course, language I now use. I don’t know how I would have described the experience at the time. I was just a kid, after all, and the experience did not seem worth telling.