“We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness; it is always urgent, ‘here and now’ without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point blank” (José Ortega y Gasset).
IN VERY MANY CASES, WHATEVER IS WORTH DOING IS NOT ONLY WORTH DOING WELL; IT’S WORTH DOING RIGHT NOW. When we know there is some good thing to be done and it would be best to tend to it immediately, procrastination is a dangerous, opportunity-wasting thing. In matters of conscience, at least, we would be better off if we were people whose inward character had more urgency. As Gasset pointed out, “Life is fired at us point blank,” and it’s usually a mistake to duck or run away.
Much has been written about the bad habit of letting our lives be tyrannized by relatively trivial things that demand our attention, while more important matters go undone. To whatever extent we can distinguish between “urgent” and “important,” we do need to resist the tyranny of things that are urgent but not important. I don’t deny that. But when I recommend urgency as a positive character trait, I’m saying that we ought to grant a greater urgency to the things that are important. Our view of what’s urgent needs to be adjusted.
Almost everybody has had the experience of being given a gift by somebody who couldn’t wait for us to open it. When we said, “Thanks, I look forward to finding out what it is,” they said, “Go ahead! Open it! Open it!” Do we mind that kind of urgency? Are we put off by it? Certainly not. And the point is that we ought to be giving our very selves to our loved ones with that kind of eagerness.
Whether or not we show a healthy measure of urgency in our hearts probably depends on how we see life in general. The most delightfully urgent people I know happen to be people whose basic response to life is “Yes!” Whatever difficulties they may have to endure, their overarching attitude toward their place in the world is one of gratitude. I’m no more naive about the brokenness of our world than you are, but I submit to you that there is still much grace to be found . . . and to be acted upon. The right response is a hearty “Yes!”
“The day is short, the labor long, the workers are idle, the reward is great, and the Master is urgent” (Mishnah).