Maybe a simple decision that seemed insignificant at the time, but went on to have a major impact on your life.
Or what would have happened if you hadn’t made that phone call, or hadn’t had that chance meeting, or if you hadn’t been in the right place at the right time?
For example, many years ago, I escorted a bus load of children to the City Hall. They were coming from Belarus in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster at the ChernobyI power plant and I was very taken with the plight of those kids.
They were still on my mind when I finished work, so I made a last minute decision to return to the City Hall to find out more about them.
I met Simon Walsh there and that meeting led to 20 years of involvement with Chernobyl-related issues, life-long friendships, and some incredible experiences. Some good, some bad, but they were all due to that one decision.
None of my decisions had catastrophic consequences, though unlike one made by Michael Keogh.
Keogh, from Tullow in County Carlow, had a spirit of adventure. He left home to join the German Army and rose to the rank of Field Lieutenant. He was duty officer at a Munich barracks in 1919 and was on his break when he was called to deal with a riot in a local gymnasium.
A local agitator was making a political speech to a crowd, including soldiers, when some of the crowd turned on him. He was dragged outside with another man and they were getting a severe beating when Keogh arrived on the scene.
Some of the mob were armed with bayonets and it seemed to Keogh that the two men were about to be killed, so he ordered his men to fire a few shots in the air to disperse the crowd.
The two victims, battered and bloodied, were brought back to the barracks prior to being transported to hospital for treatment. They probably wouldn’t have survived that ordeal if Michael Keogh had not arrived on the scene.
When Keogh asked the guy with the small moustache who he was, he gave his name as Adolf Hitler.
Hitler was just starting out on his campaign of hate at the time and, if it wasn’t for the Irishman, Adolf may have had a much shorter life and history would be very different today.
It’s impossible to calculate the number of deaths he was responsible for, but it certainly runs into the millions.
Hitler was hardly deserving of any luck, but he had his share of it. He survived several potential life-threatening events because good fortune smiled on him. Evan Andrews, a historian, wrote about some of them.
Georg Elser was a struggling German carpenter and vehemently opposed to Nazism. In 1939, he knew Hitler would be speaking at a certain location in Munich, and Elser successfully planted a bomb near the podium and set it to explode midway through Hitler’s speech.
Hitler moved the start time of his speech to 8pm so he could be back in Berlin as soon as possible. He finished his remarks by 9.07pm, and by 9.12pm, he had left the building.
Only eight minutes later, Elser’s bomb went off, levelling the pillar and sending a section of the roof crashing down on the speaker’s podium. Eight people were killed and dozens more injured.
Elser was captured that night while trying to cross the Swiss border, and he later confessed after authorities found his bomb plans.
He spent the next several years confined to Nazi concentration camps. In April, 1945, as World War II was coming to an end, he was dragged from his cell and executed by the SS.
In 1943, a disillusioned German military officer approached a member of Hitler’s staff as they were about to board a plane and asked him to take a parcel containing two bottles of Cointreau brandy to a friend in Berlin. The officer obliged, not knowing that the package actually contained plastic explosives rigged to a 30-minute fuse.
A few hours later, he received word that the Führer’s plane had landed safely in Berlin. A defective fuse had prevented it from being blown out of the sky.
In 1943, the Führer was scheduled to visit an exhibition in Berlin and another officer volunteered to organise a bomb attack. Security was so tight he decided a suicide bomb was the only option, so he did his best to stay glued to the Führer’s side as he guided him through the exhibit.
The bomb had a short 10-minute fuse, but Hitler slipped out a side door after only a few minutes. The would-be suicide bomber was forced to make a mad dash for the bathroom, where he defused the explosives with only seconds to spare.
Probably the best-known attempt on Hitler’s life was the briefcase bomb in the bunker in 1944. A group of conspirators planned to kill the Führer with a hidden bomb and seek a negotiated peace with the Allies.
The bomb was placed under a wooden table close to Hitler, but was moved inadvertently and ended up behind a thick leg of the table, which saved him when it exploded, and he survived with non-life-threatening injuries.
Michael Keogh did what he had to do in 1919. He responded to a call as he was trained to do and, in the process, he saved two lives, but little did he know the impact that decision would have on the rest of humanity.
If he had been blessed with the gift of foresight, he might have done the world a favour and taken a bit more time to eat his lunch.