“Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on.”
-Nick Fury, The Avengers
One of Nick Fury’s more famous lines ever, it’s a reply to his subordinate, who is directing an evacuation – which rather encourages one to grab only what is most immediately essential – and questioning how important it is to take with them some experimental technology that isn’t useful right then. It’s a reply, an explanation that it might still be very important in the future, and a censure to get the job done instead of wasting time talking about it. It’s an answer that has stuck with me ever since.
For one thing, it’s obviously a choice that he is making, and using his authority to lead others in supporting. The choice is to remember the future, to look after it, instead of forgetting it in the mad scramble of the present. I cannot count the number of times people have made the argument that the future doesn’t matter anyway if we don’t even manage to get there. There is some truth to that, and I rush to clarify that we do need to see to the here and now. That is our first priority, but it must not be our only priority.
We have to balance taking care of the present with looking to the future, without sacrificing either one entirely. It is, as always, a question of balance.
To that end, he is exercising the discipline required to not get caught up in the moment. That can be surprisingly difficult, and even more surprisingly essential. I am recalling a moment from a film which depicts the conflict surrounding George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware in the depths of winter, to take a force of enemy mercenaries by surprise and defeat them. It is his army’s first victory in over a year, and it was well-earned by the exhaustive efforts of everyone in that army, including their general. Naturally, everyone would feel quite right and entitled to sit down and rest for a moment, just to take that moment to enjoy their victory.
But one is never more vulnerable than they are in the moment of victory, the moment they finally let their guard down.
Washington did not make that mistake. He took his men, and their prisoners, and marched them back down to the river and crossed it again. Why? Because there was still a British army very close by, which outnumbered them by five to one. He did not stop and rest until he had put the river back between them. The scene I recall in the film has his officers questioning his orders to do so, asking if he was insane, and he replied, in essence, “No. Have you?” He kept his eyes open to the future, instead of staying only in that moment. And a good thing too!
Finally, there is something very hopeful about this attitude. It’s a forceful hope, a strong hope, rather than a mere wish or a dream or even a choice. It’s a hope that is refined and disciplined, determined and willful, unyielding and uncompromising. It’s the sort of faith that enables one to stand staring into the face of absolute disaster and destruction, the catastrophe of cataclysm, and remain composed, calm, and beyond merely defiant or fierce, but powerful. It gets results. That is the sort of backbone that civilization itself is built on.
It comes to me particularly strongly now, of course, in light of the unending disasters of this year, and the promise that there is more, and worse, to come. Pandemics, shut downs, mask mandates, a nuked economy, massive riots, burning, looting, murders, elections, corruption, propaganda, and more. Heck, at the time of writing this, I can’t even see the sun. I live in a city, in a state, that has dozens of wildfires burning all over the place, and the smoke from them has billowed and collected and saturated the air like a noxious fog. I saw it happen over the course of a few days, where the sun’s light dimmed to an orange, like sunset at noon. I saw the clouds of smoke billow and rise, brown and yellow and black. I saw the sky dim entirely to a grey-white dome, through which the sun was a nearly blood-red hole, dimmer and dimmer, and now it’s entirely gone. There’s light enough, still, to see, but going outside is a bad idea, and we may soon have to flee for our lives, taking whatever we can carry, whatever is most important to us, and nothing else. We are all a bit on edge, as people evacuate, and some wait for the order to evacuate, not knowing what tomorrow holds, not knowing what the next five minutes hold. I don’t know if my job will have us come in tomorrow, or if they’ll keep us home until the air clears and we don’t have to worry about evacuation orders. I don’t know if my workplace is going to burn or not. I don’t know if I’m about to lose nearly everything I own. And that is on top of all the normal pressures of life.
In short, it is a very stressful time, and I am scared. It would be very, very easy for me, right now, to forget about the future and just focus on surviving. It would also be very easy for me to do the opposite, to forget about taking care of the now because I’m so frightened of the future, both immediate and otherwise.
But the world hasn’t ended yet. It’s still spinning, like normal.
So I am going to do my best to keep calm, to balance the present and the future, and to make my choices accordingly. And you better believe I am praying right now.