They say that hindsight is 20/20, but they don’t tell you how hindsight can magnify an otherwise ordinary moment. In history books, that innocent moment is lucky to get a footnote; the rest are forgotten. These are the moments a good author uses subtle foreshadowing so that a huge plot twist is shocking at first and inevitable in retrospect. These are the capillaries that deliver oxygen to cell tissues without the stardom of the arteries or the veins. These are the side streets that take you to the best hole-in-the-wall places or the worst neighborhoods in town—sometimes both at once. These little moments can simultaneously be the smallest and biggest moments for you.
For just about anything in life, from business ethics to the flow of the Nile, sports provide great examples of such moments. If you were at last Saturday’s football game, you remember that Florida International University scored on Duke in the first 43 seconds of the game. The first offensive possession of the season led to a punt. The pessimism in the crowd was palpable: Was this to be yet another one of those years for Duke football?
But on that punt, the dynamic of the game changed. FIU fumbled the punt return and the Blue Devils recovered the ball. The offense nearly stalled, but they managed to convert on fourth down by the slimmest of margins. Both of those moments were critical: Both times, the Blue Devils had another chance on offense. They would score to tie it, and FIU would not lead again. Without that moment, who knows how that game would have gone? And, if Duke had lost the game or even won by a slimmer margin, there’s absolutely no telling if or how that would have changed the course of the season.
In my life outside of Wallace Wade Stadium, one of those moments took place in an IHOP on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. The Wake County public school system was making its move toward ending its student-assignment policy, which mandated socioeconomic diversity (as an unfortunately accurate proxy for racial diversity) across its rapidly expanding school district. I don’t recall what stage of that process they were in on that fateful day; all I remember is that was the day I decided I couldn’t be silent and allow this policy to end. I would end up contributing in any way I could. I sent emails to the five school board members who were pushing for the change. I wrote a letter to the editor of The News & Observer, the main newspaper in my hometown of Raleigh. Neither my small contributions nor the much larger contributions of the state NAACP stopped the school board from ending the diversity policy anyway.
Yet, even though I couldn’t change the school board’s mind, that moment at IHOP is one that I can look back on as a turning point in my life. It was the moment when I began feeding my fledgling interest in politics. It was the moment when I began learning about activism and how I could get involved. It was the moment when I began learning how to keep up with current events. Without that moment, I don’t know where I’d be. One of the reasons I was drawn to Duke in the first place was because of its politically active nature, but what if that were a turn-off instead of a turn-on? What if, without that moment, my acceptance into Duke would have been a rejection? Worst of all, what if I’d ended up at the place-that-shall-not-be-named in Chapel Hill?
These moments will become more and more important as we continue through life. Here at Duke, an obvious turning point is one’s choice of major. That’s not the kind of thing I’m focusing on, though. Your choice of major is both a cause and an effect: It will cause you to have a certain set of opportunities, yet it’s only the result of your prior experiences and your reactions to those experiences.
Take a look at the decisions you make in low-pressure situations. It’s a lot easier to make a decision when you don’t think it’s going to matter down the road. It’s precisely the fact that it doesn’t matter that it’s so important. When the pressure’s up, when the deadline’s about to hit, you’re more tempted to do what’s expected of you. These small yet retrospectively critical moments help shape your character and set up your future. You won’t know which of these moments were crucial until after they’ve happened, but if you’re ever at a crossroads, it’s these moments that can be your guide.
Jordan DeLoatch is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Jordan on Twitter @jstorm64