by Steve Goodier
The date is June 24, 1859. Suddenly, there he is, atop a hill overlooking the plain of Solferino. Napoleon’s troops 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 Napoleon III 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 he was the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1901). We also remember him because of the movement he founded – 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 Dunant’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 some, Act Two may begin with a conversion, or a turning point. Others speak of a defining moment. However it is understood, the “old self” is laid to rest and a new self is born – one governed by principle, spirit and passion.
You may be ready for Act Two. It may be the next scene of a life that counts.