You must put your head into the lion’s mouth if the performance is to be a success. —Winston Churchill
Though few of us will ever be called to lead our nation through a moment of crisis, all of us lead lives marked by inflection points. Moments when, prepared or not, we are summoned to face a decision or reckoning that feels bigger than anything we have ever known. Our moments are unlikely to inspire the curiosity and scrutiny afforded the momentous events of Churchill’s life, but they may be equally dramatic and consequential for us and those in our lives. Such is the nature of human existence and our fate is to travel between these moments connecting them experientially like patches in our life’s quilt.
As a follow-on to the screening of the movie, attendees had the opportunity to observe a live panel discussion between Dr. Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, Gary Oldman, who played Churchill in the movie, and Doug Urbanski, the Producer of the movie. When asked about the project, Oldman and Urbanski used the expression harmonic convergence to describe the unlikely chain of events leading to the development of movie. Isn’t that how our lives work? Plodding away on our daily routine, things wanted or unwanted appear and we are presented with a choice. Our lives reflect a series of harmonic convergences from which we launch into a particular direction and destiny is made. For my part, I don’t believe that harmonic convergences are accidental.
As we consider our own harmonic convergences, what lessons might we draw from Churchill and Darkest Hour?
- No matter how much you feel unequal to the task, your life has prepared you for this moment. In Churchill’s case, he had led a life of political, social, and personal battle. He had faced defeat time and time again bouncing back continuously. He was a fighter. He was passionate about England. He felt a duty to his people. In the heat of the moments of May and June 1940, he felt overwhelmed by the impossibility of his task, and yet, he drew upon his experience and found a way forward.
- Doubt is normal. The great moments are defined by doubts. The greatest among us and before us have been gripped by doubts. It is normal. It should be expected. Churchill was a confident man but also fragile, prone to moments of depression. In the face of his doubts, he turned to those he loved and trusted. Ultimately, it was the faith of those around him that offset his doubt and strengthened his resolve.
- Keep pressing forward. The fog of war. The magnitude of the stakes. The fear of failure. Fear and doubt often conspire to cause us to freeze. We want more information. We want more support. We want permission. Our moments of destiny rarely offer enough of any of the above. In Churchill’s case, the pressure to retreat, negotiate, or wait for some other indication of the right direction was brutally intense. Men were dying as he agonized over the path forward. In spite of it all, he continued to make decisions and do the excruciatingly hard work of pressing forward. In the process, things began to reveal themselves. Pressing forward is a tremendous act of faith and critical in the darkest, most difficult hours of our lives.
- This moment is one of many. When faced with decisions or moments of great magnitude, we often make the mistake of feeling that “this is it.” We act and believe this decision or moment, is final, when in fact, it is one in a series. Destiny is fulfilled one step at a time and fear grips most tightly when we let all of the weight sit in one particular place. When Churchill was able to push the uncertainty from his mind long enough, he was able to see the bigger picture. There are defining moments and our decisions set direction, however, whatever the path, there are many more ahead.
- You are not alone. At one point during the movie, Churchill’s wife, Clementine, walks into his bedroom in the middle of the night to wake him and when she flips on the light, he is sitting on the edge of his bed, fully clothed, eyes open and in a daze. The crushing weight of events was written across his face and his posture provided visible proof of a man lost in the magnitude of these moments. How often do we retreat into the dark of our own quarters to carry these moments alone? We convince ourselves that no one else can understand or we dread the perception of weakness affirming our fear that we are not up to the task before us. It is important to remember that the bigger the decision, the more it affects those around us and the less alone we really are. From this moment, Churchill sought those his decisions would most affect and shared some piece of the burden constructively.
- “Success always demands a greater effort.” I believe this Churchill quotation captures the essence of his wisdom for times when we confront the moments of our destiny. When the moment comes, the choice is ours and will demand incredible effort. In Darkest Hour, Churchill’s grueling schedule is on full display. Meetings, calls, staff, handlers; commitments upon commitments and little break in the action. We may not be world leaders, however, the lesson remains for us all: greater efforts must be made if we are to prevail.
What are the moments facing you now? As opportunities to rise or retreat from the occasion present themselves, what will you do? We are all called to leave our own dent in the universe – even if that universe is the block on which we live. The dramas of our days may not be written or recorded but play out quietly before a seemingly indifferent world. So what? Seize them as the moments they are and see your destiny as what it might be: the chance to make a difference. Then confront that destiny with the resolve and effort worthy of something greater than yourself.