I was listening to a podcast this morning by Dharius Daniels with Change Church, and he mentioned this quote I loved by Martin Luther King, Jr: “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” It grabbed my attention because it captures everything I’m feeling yet powerless to achieve, and because I’m a sucker for the beauty of words and ideas eloquently expressed and because it brings a sense of being less alone into the struggles that feel so isolating. Words like these remind us that we aren’t experiencing anything that can be so unique that we’re completely misunderstood. Someone, somewhere, at some point in the past just gets it.
Thanks to the magical powers of Google, I found the speech containing this particular quote which was “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.” He was speaking to a congregation in April 1967 about the controversies surrounding his views on the Vietnam War. Although the speech was for this specific moment in history, there was a whole section in it that speaks to my own personal history and where I feel like I’m standing right now. Here’s that part:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood, it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’ There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect—‘The moving finger writes and having writ moves on,’…Now let us begin…Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them all the struggle is too hard?…Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost?” (Link to full document here http://inside.sfuhs.org/dept/history/US_History_reader/Chapter14/MLKriverside.htm)
Now, these comments were not about any mundane day to day experience. They were about something big and controversial. There are situations in our country and our society which can definitely benefit from reading these words, and the fact that I can apply them to my daily life might make me incredibly self-centered, but here we are. I have been able to now officially put a description to the storm going on inside my head. I am feeling the fierce urgency of now.
Somehow, I have gone from accepting contentment with business as usual to feeling like I need to tear it down and start over from scratch. I have ideas for so many things, and I have plans, and none of them are things that can be quickly accomplished. They are process kinds of things. They are empires to be built, not simple construction projects. There are all these rational explanations for why now isn’t a good time and why things need to wait and they are valid. But while I understand that on an intellectual level, my soul rejects reason entirely. In my soul beats a drum called the urgency of now. I feel like I cannot tolerate standing still.
I cannot continue to live in a life that brings me no joy. I cannot continue to wait for things to work themselves out rather than take charge of the things I can change. I cannot sit on my hands and wait because it makes me feel suffocated and trapped and desperate to run, and the only way I can feel free is to bang against these walls that are closing in on me and refuse to be confined. I want my children to see that and know it and learn it by my example. I want them to realize that we are not prisoners of circumstance, and that sometimes taking chances is the only way to feel alive. Underneath all of this epiphany, reality looms and threatens to squash my forward motion, but I think I’m too far gone, and I think I’m too determined, and I think I understand what he meant by the fierce urgency of now. The odds are great, and the struggle is hard, but the threat of “too late” is more threatening than the risk of failure. Tomorrow is today, and it’s time to get started.