A number of years ago, I read Lee and Bob Woodruff’s book, In An Instant, the moving and revealing story of how their lives were affected when an IED went off near the tank Bob was riding in while embedded with the US military in Iraq. The book contains many tales of perseverance, of kindness, and of what marriage, family and friends really mean, some of which I have written about previously.

What I want to focus on now is the title, In An Instant. The book has taken up semi-permanent residence in our restroom and I find myself frequently confronted by the title, In An Instant. And it makes me reflect. Our lives can be changed – dramatically so – in an instant. It focuses me on how precious and important even a nanosecond can be. And how we need to maintain our alertness and consciousness even for the briefest of instants.

Someone I know described how she briefly turned around to hand her child a drink in the car and hit a pedestrian crossing the street. An engineer turned away momentarily to text some young friends and, in an instant, caused a massive train wreck. In a drunken instant a broker may move millions of dollars to the wrong investment and bankrupt himself and his company. In an instant, some fanatic can put their finger on the trigger of a nuclear warhead and destroy the lives of thousands of civilians.

Instants matter. And it’s not just in other people’s lives, in other people’s stories. In an instant we may utter hurtful words that ruin friendships, careers, marriages – words that can’t be taken back. In an instant we can say something demeaning to our children, a harsh line of criticism that may cause serious damage to their sense of self. In an instant, we can give the wrong advice to a friend and grave harm may result. In an instant, we may turn our head away and not see that child run into the street.

Lives are shaped by those instants. And it’s hard to be constantly vigilant. But the yetzer hara – that part of us that tries to trip us up and lower ourselves – lies in wait for those lax moments and we need to be ever battle-ready. In fact, we need to be proactive – on guard, on hyper-alert – and take initiative in a positive direction.

After all, it’s not just negative situations or behaviors that occur in an instant. Positive differences can be made in an instant as well.

In an instant, our smile can brighten someone’s day. In an instant, our “Good morning” can make another person feel noticed. In an instant, our “How are you?” can show a fellow human being we care. In an instant, we can pick up papers that someone else dropped. In an instant, we can put change in someone’s meter so they don’t get a ticket. In (slightly more than) an instant, we can help carry someone’s groceries to their car. In an instant, we can hold open a door or give up a seat or let someone with two items in front of us in line. In an instant, we can invite a new acquaintance to join us for an evening out. In an instant, we can make a lifelong commitment to marriage. In an instant, we can say “I love you” – and mean it. In an instant, we can say thank you to the Almighty for all the blessings He has given us.

Instants are powerful. We shouldn’t dismiss them or treat them cavalierly. Lives – ours and those around us – can be changed - in an instant.