I wonder how many people who watch the Olympics are thinking what I am thinking; that when an athlete steps up to the mat, every second of their training and hard work, adds up to what will happen in the next few minutes. It is the moment that matters. Everything before is simply prelude.
Life is characterized by such moments of destiny, where greatness will be seized, or fumbled. I was thinking about this while reading a biography of Winston Churchill. He has sometimes been called the greatest man in modern history, and he has also been excoriated by the usual suspects. What is clear to me, is that he had a rare grasp of the times. He became Prime Minister at one of the most portentous moments of history. His oratory and sheer power of will steered the British empire to victory when it seemed all was lost. Whatever his shortcomings, he saw clearly the dangers that everyone else dismissed.
Winston Churchill had premonitions of greatness as early as age sixteen, when he told a friend that he would one day save the British Empire. I am not sure what others thought of such windy pronouncements from someone so soon out of short pants. He echoed the same prescience at the age of sixty-four when he became Prime Minister. He said that all of his life, every lesson, every struggle and defeat, and every coincidence, had led up to that moment. “Who knows, but that I was born for a time such as this?”
Churchill’s experience mirrors a story from the Bible about Queen Esther, a Jewish Queen to King Xerxes of Persia during their exile in Babylon. A plot was unfolding behind the scenes to destroy the Jewish people. But Esther was at the right place at the right time. Her uncle Mordecai advised her, “who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for a time such as this?” Esther decided to appeal to the king. This took some courage, because a king wielded absolute power. To step into his presence uninvited could cost you your life. But the king looked on her with favour, and the Jewish people were saved from destruction.
In your lifetime you will surely brush up against those moments of destiny where your actions and what comes out of your mouth will have a profound effect on what happens next. You will fully understand such moments only in retrospect, when you see how differently things might have been had you missed your cue.
There are more subtle lessons to be had from such reflections. Those pivotal moments tell us that our actions big and small, even our failings, all add up to something bigger in the end. In light of this, there is no such thing as an insignificant moment or an inconsequential action. Understanding this puts pain and sacrifice in a different light, and it is a powerful antidote against a nagging sense of meaninglessness that can hang on to the edges of human existence.
Life has many layers which often seem to go backward and forward at the same time. Midst this truth, seeing exactly where you are, and recognizing the times you are in, may be the rarest gift of all. Who knows, but that you were born for a time such as this?