Creativity and the Kindness of Strangers

Above Average Underground

I’ve been in London this week. Today, a woman in her fifties steps onto the Tube, pulling a suitcase. She carefully wheels her small case between four sets of feet toward an empty seat. The train lurches forward and she loses her balance, falling over her suitcase, out of control, landing on her stomach in the middle of the train car floor. She rights herself and tries to sit up as everyone in the train looks on. I was that woman.

The Full Catastrophe

I love London: The diversity of color, style, language and taste gives me a sense of possibility. Maybe people can live together despite their differences. Maybe by living together we can learn what it means to be human. Maybe by being human we can mange to create something new in our world.

Joseph Campbell spoke of life as a grand opera, and I have always liked that idea. Sometimes you play the savior, and sometimes you play the one who needs saving. It’s easier to be savior, the strong one with all the answers. But it is not enough. The one who needs a hand gives something too.

Your Trembling Hands

Today, as I tried to get up off the floor of the train, a sea of about 25 people watched me from their seats. Then one person took creative action. A dark-skinned man in a plaid shirt stood, stepped toward me and reached out his hand. I took it without thinking and rose to my feet. I was no longer alone. And the entire train car bore witness.

Once seated, my entire body began to shake. Tears filled my eyes as I surfed between pain, embarrassment, my shock and the stranger’s kindness. I saw compassion in the face of his companion. I felt tenderness from the old Indian man beside me who asked if I was all right. The train continued on to the posh area of London where I got off, and suits and cell phones passed each other anonymously. But I was now connected to the river of people flowing through London in a way I had not been before the fall.

I will never see this stranger again, but he and I created something together. It was a passing moment that will stay with me for a long time. Perhaps one of the witnesses will also remember it when the next person falls.

Moments Like This

We are very particular about what it means to be creative. It has to look a certain way. We think it’s beyond our reach. We think we are not good enough. We don’t want to look stupid. We aren’t willing to take a risk. But great art is created when individuals respond intimately, passionately to their world. Avoiding that response becomes a habit. It is a form of creative anorexia, and it costs us the best of ourselves.

The possibility of world peace exists in moments like this. When you or I respond to the situation in front of us—the need of a perfect stranger—with action, with caring, we create. There is nothing to wait for, no place to get to, no skill to perfect. There is only the choice to open your eyes and see what is needed, and then to act. Life is a canvas always blank for you to make your mark.

And you?

What can you create in your city of strangers? If you are waiting for someone else to give you permission to create your own life, look for the canvases in need of your mark today.

Learn more

Check out the Anorexia chapter in The Wheel of Creativity: Taking Your Place in the Adventure of Life. Coming soon to Amazon. Stay tuned for details here and learn how you can download the eBook for free by subscribing to my monthly Creative Adventure Journal.