As I was buying stamps at the corner drug-store just now I overheard a bearded stranger telling about his Bill.
"He's the funniest kid," he was saying as I went in. "He has a cup with his name on it in gold lettering, and that's the only cup that he'll drink from. His milk is no good unless he gets it out of that special cup. I guess that we ought never to have humored him so far; but he's got so now that he carries it to picnics and parties, and if it got lost — "
I heard no more, but I could not get that foolish, fastidious child out of my mind because I knew that I had been a kind of Bill myself in days gone by.
Lionel was at school with me and we chummed up so well together that we were never happy except in each other's company. When first we met we were both deep in the same kind of trouble, and it was great to be able to talk to another fellow who could thoroughly understand. The link once formed, other points of contact developed and finally we knew each other like our own pockets, as the saying goes. There was sympathy, complete understanding, and a spirit of helpfulness — in fact the usual outfit of human virtues of which everybody has his share, but which I could never recognise in anyone but Lionel Lee. I was just like little Bill. I had to take the milk of human kindness out of my particular cup, or go without.
Well, crockery won't last forever, and one day this particular cup — -broke; and it seemed to me as though the world had come to an end. Lionel was dead — or what we call dead — and the body in which he had lived was put out of sight. And now, if I wanted sympathy or a kind word, I had to go without, for Lionel was gone, and I lived a lonely man in a crowd of strangers.
It was years before I learned that the milk of human kindness might be found in other cups; but I discovered it at last. The man who limits himself to one particular cup, shuts himself off from a lot of pleasant refreshment along the way; and if that particular cup should happen to be smashed! — why he feels as if the bottom had fallen out of everything!
Chumship is well enough, but don't let it narrow your life. Why not be chummy with the human race? Humanity is, in its highest expression, a beautiful thing; and a true friend is more to be desired than much fine gold; but do not let us forget that every man is a portion of the human race, and that whatever you find in one, you may find in all if you know how to look for it.
Let us level up, not down! Let us not say: I will henceforth love my chum no more than the general mass of humanity. There is a better way. Whatever of good I find in my chum, I will set myself to discover in everyone I meet: and as I feel towards my chum I will try to feel towards every member of the human race.
Why not fall in love with humanity?