The Power to Change the World

When I was a young physical therapist just getting into the arena of human suffering I worked at a very old inner city school for disabled children. The school had originally been built for kids with TB and polio and was called an “open air” school. It was designed so that its large windows were aligned in such a way as to bring in fantastic ventilation. This was a treatment and prevention approach back then.

In the beginning I believed I could “fix” the problems set before me. And I made so many mistakes you could fill a bucket with them. Gratefully I had a supervisor who was kind and funny and she taught me without me even knowing it.

But as time went on I realized I could have very little impact on these kids. Most of their deformities and weaknesses and neurological problems were of long standing and the changes I was going to be able to make were going to be small. In addition, I was learning what horrendous conditions these kids lived in because of their poverty, and I had no solution for these devastating problems. These children were not only dealing with a disability they were also literally starving (some only ate at school, with no food at home for weekends or evenings), without everyday conveniences like running water and electricity. I felt overwhelmed and depressed. What could I do? What difference would any of my work make?

Then one day I was walking down the hall when I saw this very small boy trying to get a drink of water. He was about two inches too short to reach it. He had a crutch in one hand and a brace on his leg and his clothes were dirty, the cuff on his sleeve torn and raveled. He was a perfect, modern day Tiny Tim.

I lifted him up to the water fountain. He seemed to drink forever. When I put him down he turned and gave me a big hug and a big smile. Then, in a surprising burst of speed, he turned and ran-almost a skipping motion as he threw his braced leg in front of him–down the hall to go back to his recess in the gym.

That moment, that hug, that smile changed my life. I finally realized what it was all about. It wasn’t about changing the world or rescuing kids from their challenges. It was about right now, right here. How can I help right now, right here.

In our lives we only have the present. We only have this moment. The secret, I learned, is to make it the best moment that we can. And that is truly how we save the world, with this moment, which then feeds into the next moment and so on. Like dominoes in a line one affects the next until there is a cascade of effort, a cascade of change. The beauty of it is that this power to change the world, one moment at a time, is available to all of us. We all have the power to change the world.