From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Act Two

The date is June 24, 1859. Atop a hill overlooking the plain of Solferino, Jean-Henri Dunant has a box seat view as Napoleon’s troops prepare for battle with the Austrians below. Trumpets blare, muskets crack and cannons boom.

The two armies crash into each other as Dunant 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. Dunant doesn’t mean to be there. He is only on a business trip—to speak to Napoleon about a financial transaction between the Swiss and the French. But he arrived late and now finds himself in a position to witness firsthand the atrocities of war.

What Dunant sees from his hill, however, pales in comparison to what he is soon to witness. Entering a small town shortly after the fierce encounter, Dunant now observes the battle’s refugees. Every building is filled with the mangled, the injured, the dead. Dunant, 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, Jean-Henri Dunant will eventually lose his successful banking career and all his worldly possessions to die as a virtual unknown in an obscure poorhouse.

But we remember Dunant today because he was the first recipient, in 1901, of the Nobel Peace Prize. We also remember him because of the movement he founded—the Red Cross.

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

Many people’s lives can be divided into two acts. The first act ends when one decides to follow a new direction or passion. Dunant’s old life, driven by financial success, prestige and power, no longer satisfied him. A new Jean-Henri Dunant emerged in the second act of his life, a man who was now motivated by love, compassion and an overriding commitment to abolish the horrors of war.

The second act of some people’s lives may begin with a conversion or a major turning point. Others speak of a defining moment. 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 is the final scene of a life that counts.

Steve Goodier

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