A missed opportunity?


When is it too late?

I've been giving this a bit of thought recently, in the light of thinking through my relationship with perfectionism. It seems that I have wasted a good deal of time worrying about the things I have left either undone or unfinished - books unread on my shelves provide a constant reminder of my failings and shortcomings.

Two different Greek words are used in the New Testament for 'time' - chronos and kairos. The former is the better understood, the kind of time we never have enough of. Kairos is more interesting - it is that sense of the appropriate moment for something to come to fruition or end. It is the 'right time' and can often only be understood to have happened in hindsight. We look back and realise that something we had been hoping to happen for ages, when it came, it seemed to make sense.

MLK called it the fierce urgency of now: “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. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action."

Kairos has a certain power behind it. I write this on the 500th anniversary of the day when Martin Luther, a university lecturer and friar, pinned his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. Why, at this moment? Had he had a particularly bad day? What finally broke the camel's back?

As well as knowing when it is the moment to act, how do we cope and what do we do when we've missed the boat? Perhaps unfairly, it was said of Yasser Arafat that he 'never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity'. In 2000, at Camp David, the Israelis and Palestinians came tantalizingly close to a deal but baulked and the chance was gone. Looking at the situation day and many have wondered whether that was the last real chance for peace.

The EU's relationship with Turkey is another one where delay may have cost both sides dear. If Turkey's application for membership had not been stalled, would the AK Party have been able to move the country away from democratic reforms as it has? And the history of (the lack of) political progress in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement serves as a reminder that the longer things go undone the harder they are to finish.

Back to my bookshelves: sometimes find that the right time to read a book is about 15 years after I purchased it! I have an uncanny knack of knowing what books I'll need in a couple of decades' time. Does that mean that history is cyclical rather than linear and that kairos moments may appear more than once? For the really important stuff, I sincerely hope so. For the rest, for the many books on my shelves that may remain unread, it may be a case of accepting that there is simply too much of life to be lived by one person and my missed opportunity is another person's kairos.

Politics and more widely and the need to grasp oppotunities. POwer of decision-making.

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