A New Life

The date is June 24, 1859. Suddenly, there he is, atop a hill overlooking the plain of Solferino. The troops of Napoleon III (Louis Napoleon) prepare for battle with the Austrians below, and Henri Dunant has a box-seat view from his place on the hill.

Trumpets blare, muskets crack and cannons boom. The two armies crash into each other, as Henri looks on, transfixed. He sees the dust rising. He hears the screams of the injured. He watches bleeding, maimed men take their last breaths as he stares in horror at the scene below.

Henri doesn’t mean to be there. He is only on a business trip – to speak to Louis Napoleon about a financial transaction between the Swiss and the French. But he arrived late and now finds himself in a position to witness first-hand the atrocities of war.

What Henri sees from his hill, however, pales in comparison with what he is soon to witness. Entering a small town shortly after the fierce encounter, Henri now observes the battle’s refugees. Every building is filled with the mangled, the injured, the dead. Henri, aching with pity, decides to stay in the village three more days to comfort the young soldiers.

He realizes that his life will never be the same again. Driven by a powerful passion to abolish war, Henri Dunant will eventually lose his successful banking career and all his worldly possessions only to die as a virtual unknown in an obscure poorhouse.

But we remember Henri today because the Swiss humanitarian and activist was the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1901). We also remember him because he took his country’s flag, a white cross on a red background, reversed the colors and founded what was to become a worldwide movement – the Red Cross.

Act One of Henri Dunant’s life closed June 24, 1859. Act Two opened immediately and played the remainder of his 81 years.

Many people’s lives can be divided into Act One and Act Two. The first performance ends when one decides to ultimately follow a new direction or passion. Henri’s old life, driven by financial success, prestige and power, no longer satisfied. A new Henri Dunant emerged in Act Two; one who was motivated by love, compassion and an overriding commitment to abolish the horrors of war.

For many people like Henri, Act Two begins with a defining moment – it may be an experience, an important insight or perhaps even a rite of passage, such as a birthday. However it comes about, Act Two begins when the “old self” is laid to rest and a new self is born. At its best, this new self is one governed by different priorities and a renewed passion to live differently. 

Act One might be closing in your life. If so, are you ready for Act Two? Something exciting may be about to begin.

And so, we pray: Lord, we thank you for allowing us… encouraging us to begin a new life… an act II, if you will, where we allow you to change us from an “I” to a “We”. Lead us into the journey of the second part of our lives… where we live for others. Amen.

Grace and Peace

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