This is one of my favorite C.S. Lewis poems. First he talks about those who lost a race, or even the race of their own existence, by one tiny mishap, one slip. Then he discusses those who by a thread, or by a small event saved something large, perhaps even their lives.
Nearly they stood who fall.
Themselves, when they look back,
See always in the track
One torturing spot where all
By a possible quick swerve
Of will yet unenslaved–
By the infinitesimal twitching of a nerve–
Might have been saved.
Nearly they fell who stand.
These with cold after-fear
Look back and note how near
They grazed the Siren’s land,
Wondering to think that fate,
By threads so spidery-fine,
The choice of ways so small, the event so great,
Should thus entwine.
If we take the poem out of the realm of life and death, and into that of mere success and failure, we see that there are many such times as this: times when a decision, sometimes a split-second decision, determines the future for us in a huge way. We look back and say: It was that second, that momentous choice, or effort, that deposited me on this path or that one. Loyalty/betrayal. Obedience/rebellion. Decision/hesitation: Some things are worth our extra resolve.
And how are we so quick to judge the "nearly stood"s? We, ourselves, only made it by an inch--that's no wide, flat ground for boasting!
Therefore I sometimes fear
Lest oldest fears prove true,
Lest, when no bugle blew
My mort, when skies looked clear,
I may have stepped one hair’s
Breadth past the hair-breadth bourn
Which, being once crossed forever unawares,
In the third verse, Lewis ponders how, on some perfectly normal day, though far removed from the threat of disaster, he too may step over that edge and not return.
We live on the brink of our eternity.