I found such a moment in the life of President Lincoln. He was, in his younger days reckless with words. One time he went too far in making fun of James Shields, a democrat and state auditor. In an essay for which Lincoln took responsibility, there was sarcastic fictional dialog in which Shields tells the ladies:
I was at the Lincoln memorial and seeing the great man sitting there like a marble God, I felt happy to be alive and immediately went to a restaurant and ate a pizza. I came home and thought about greatness. What takes a man or woman to such greatness that they make marble statues of you and people come from Japan to look at it? Is it one single moment when we say ‘oh snap! I need to go for it.’
“Dear Girls, it is distressing, but I cannot marry you all…it is not my fault that I am so handsome and so interesting.”-Anonymous Letter from Lincoln signed as Rebecca
This kind of sarcasm angered James Shields who had been a lawyer and a member of the legislature with Lincoln. When Lincoln took responsibility for the essay, Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel! In those times it was considered shameful to back down from a fight. When someone challenged you to a duel the expectation was that as a gentleman you will defend your honor. As the challenged party, Lincoln got the option of selecting the weapons to be used in this duel. He decided they would battle with swords. Suddenly a humorous letter had escalated to a life threatening situation. Lincoln and Shields travelled to a sandy location near the Mississippi river for a fight to death. They were both accompanied by friends and history does not record if any of these people bought popcorn. According the rules of the duel, a plank, ten feet long was placed on the ground to separate the two warriors. They were not allowed to cross the plank during the fight. The long reach of the tall Abraham Lincoln must have bothered James Shields. Lincoln also practiced his swings and swishes with his sword, warming up for battle. Luckily, friends of Lincoln and Shields managed to reach a compromise. Lincoln then announced that he had nothing personal against Shields and this cooled down the situation. The duel was cancelled. No one died.
This incident had an impact on Lincoln. He never again mentioned this incident and was sensitive about it. This incident may have allowed his brain to draw a line between the small and silly things that prevent the big and great things from happening. This realization may have helped him become one of the most important men in history.
I strongly believe in such turning points. There are moments in our lives which open our eyes and make us say ‘oh snap, truly I have been asleep.’
Source: Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years by Carl Sandburg