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Turning Points or Last Links?

I recently read an essay by Mark Twain in which he recounted how a certain magazine had asked several prominent writers of the day, including Twain, to contribute articles using the title "The Turning Point of My Life." After mulling over that topic and how he should address it in his essay, Twain reached an interesting and instructive conclusion. Beneath his characteristic humor, he revealed a serious truth.

The term "turning point" implies a single event or moment in time that changes one's life in a major way and makes all the difference from that point forward. Sort of like Robert Frost's decision to travel "The Road Not Taken," which "has made all the difference."

But, upon deeper reflection, Twain concluded that such turning points are but the last link in a long chain of events that led to that pivotal moment, decision, or event. He illustrated how practically every job he had had--his apprenticeship to a printer; his being allowed to produce an issue of the newspaper of that printer; his work as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi; his accompanying his brother to help him in his role as secretary of Nevada Territory; his going to the silver mines; his "scribblings" for the Virginia City Enterprise and eventually the Sacramento Union; his joining the lecture circuit; and the writing of his first book, The Innocents Abroad--led him, step by step, into the literary profession, that final link.

One can also see a negative example of this truth in the life of Israel's king Saul. The links in his life included his selection, by popular demand, as the first king of Israel. His leading Israel to victory over the Ammonites cemented his popular approval. But later, when the prophet Samuel told him to await his arrival to perform sacrifices but was delayed in coming, Saul took matters into his own hands and usurped the role of priest.

That overreach led to the next link, his being rejected as king by the very God Who had brought him to the throne. Later, when commanded by God to destroy an enemy, Saul only partially obeyed, holding back some of the spoils of war and sparing the enemy king. In an effort to inflict total defeat on his next enemy, Saul gave an unreasonable command (although his valiant soldiers were weary and hungry to the point of fainting, he forbad upon pain of death anyone's eating until he had been avenged of his enemy) that led to his almost executing his own son.

Having rejected Saul, God chose David to be his successor, and God's Spirit came upon David but left Saul, replaced by an evil spirit. David, a talented musician, was employed to play for Saul, and Saul's spirit was refreshed.

But then, after David defeated Goliath in that famous incident and won the acclaim of the people, Saul grew jealous and became unhinged, even trying to kill David. He spent the rest of his life obsessively trying to hunt down and kill David. He even resorted to consulting a witch in an effort to destroy him. He ended up committing suicide.

The "turning point" in Saul's life was, in reality, merely the last link in a chain of events. (You can read all about the various links in 1 Samuel 9-31.)

And so, I suspect, it is with everyone.

Looking back, like Twain, I see such a chain in my life, leading to my own writing career, albeit much less spectacular than his. Various unrelated jobs in college, years of teaching, open and closed doors along the way. Being asked to teach English with a focus on writing (a history teacher who happened to have a minor in English and a free planning period, I was the logical choice, it seemed). My frustrations during my early years of teaching, which led, as a form of therapy, to my first published article and subsequent article successes. Those articles opened doors to editing. Layoffs forced me into freelance work and, from that I entered textbook and curriculum writing. And, from that, to book writing, that most recent link.

I don't know if this is the "last link" or just another in the long chain. Only time will tell.

I'll bet that you, too, can reflect on your own life and see a multiple-linked chain of events that led you to a "turning point," or where you now are. If so, why not share it with other readers of this blog? Your chain might encourage some other writer.

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Joy Neal Kidney
Joy Neal Kidney
Jul 28, 2023

I'm exploring this same thing in this new book, "What Leora Never Knew." Grandma Leora's death was a major turning point, leading up to the books about her challenging life stories. Looking back, I can see where I'd been "in training" for decades while just enjoying her as a delightful grandmother--genealogy, research, family stories.

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