I walked to work with a glad heart, and a sort of koan took shape: What effect does saving the short life of a tiny being have in the grand scheme of things? When I reached the office, more pressing matters took my attention and I forgot about it.
That evening, I read a beautiful blog post over at ZenDotStudio called Gladdening the Heart which reminded me of the question. A couple of days later, a simple but moving story called Three Gifts at Mind Deep reminded me again that the question was not going to go away.
One of my all-time favourite movie scenes is near the end of Schindler's List where Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) gives Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) a ring made from a gold bridge given by one of the 1,100 Jews he saved from the gas chambers by employing them in his factory. He essentially bought their freedom with his own money. He realizes to his dismay that he still has an expensive car and a gold pin that he could have sold, and in that heart-wrenching moment he breaks down, crying "I could have got more out, I could have got more - but I didn't!" (Watch the scene here - make sure you have hankies. It gets me every time.)
The inscription in the ring is from the Talmud: "Whoever saves one life saves the world entire."
That line is reminiscent of the statements attributed to the Buddha: "On the day I became enlightened, the whole universe became enlightened," and to Jesus, referring to feeding the hungry and caring for the sick: "Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of one of these, you have done it to me."
One thing is for sure: because of the interconnectedness of every single thing with every other single thing, there is no way that our tiny intellects can ever calculate every possible outcome of a simple action. Science fiction stories have described how a seemingly trivial event could prevent Hitler from being born, averting the second world war. Perhaps a child watching you rescue a stranded worm from the wet pavement will be inspired to become another Mother Teresa. Or perhaps the child will just think you're a nut.
You could say that saving an insect matters because it's connected to everything, or that it matters because it is everything, or, that it doesn't matter.
So the question remains: In an act of kindness, does size matter?
The ox goes through the window
But it's tail does not
Why was the little bug saved?