Here is a brief story from the Zen teacher John Tarrant, told in his wonderful book, Bring Me the Rhinoceros. I return to this again and again, as it speaks to me of the possibility of our times–and of the actions that I have come to learn truly matter.
“A friend was in the Paris Metro when a disheveled man came onto the subway train…The man seemed to be drunk or deeply disturbed; his shirt was off, he was bleeding, and perhaps he had been beaten up. He was sweating, gesturing violently, and swearing at the young women in the car. As he spoke, saliva sprayed from his mouth. It was clear, my friend said, that he wanted something, but he was also a frightening apparition and the young people in the car made themselves small and pressed back against the sides of the car, hoping not to be noticed. My friend, who is Japanese and already small, was not sure she understood what as happening, so she followed their cue and shrank back with them.
However, as the man stumbled along the aisle, an old woman whom nobody had noticed until that time reached up and took his hand. She tugged gently. His body followed her hand down, and he collapsed onto the seat beside her. As she held his head against her breast, he began sobbing. In this case, the appearance of the rhino changed things for everybody in the subway car: a moment of fear and danger became an occasion for kindness. Such a transformation is one of the truly creative acts a person can bring about.”