Monday, March 15, 2010

Courage Passes

“I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more – much more,” said Miep Gies the Dutch secretary who is credited with keeping the family of Anne Frank alive during their hiding during World War II. Gies just recently passed away at the age of 101.

Miep was one of those who during German occupation stood with others with the courage to help aid and hide Anne Frank and her family during during WW II. She brought food and supplies to the Frank family for two years in their hideaway at great risk to herself. She was the one who found Anne’s diaries and held onto them for safekeeping to return to Anne Frank's father after the war. From that one act, and those like it, we gain a preserved history of both great tragedy and heroism.

On a recent trip to Holland, I took the time to visit the house and back rooms of that factory in Amsterdam where Anne Frank and her family spent those two years in hiding with Anne writing about her life in writing in her diaries, later to become the most famous 12 year old victim of that war. I remember seeing the pictures that she taped to the walls, the windows the family looked out after the dark of night. You couldn’t help but imagine what went through their minds for those years locked away in hiding, wondering what would happen, and the courage it must have taken. Not only the personal fear of discovery they faced everyday, but also the tremendous guilt that must have been felt for their friends who were risking their lives to help them. What we see as courage today, back then would have been considered either both lunacy or down right treason.

Often, courage is reflected upon after the fact. It is a trait, not necessarily apparent unless tested. I was thinking how fitting that this courageous Dutch woman celebrates her 100th milestone birthday in the same week that we celebrate the 200th birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. If anything, this is the week to celebrate the birthday of courage. These are two others who showed unexpected courage and resolve when tested. They bucked what might be considered the pressures of the day to stand up for what they believed at great personal risk to not only their reputations but their lives.

Whether by political resolve, moral fortitude, or scientific discovery each of these individuals found within themselves an ability to transcend the easy path, steering a new course strewn with the wreckage called courage. A simple Dutch woman saves a life in disregard to her own welfare shows personal courage. Joining a resistance you know is right when neighbors turn in neighbors and you have no way of knowing if your trust will meet betrayal takes courage. A President resists the strong political pressures to compromise and allow the spreading of slavery but sets a moral line he won’t cross to save the union takes courage. A scientist bucking the prevailing thoughts of the day to introduce scientific discoveries he knows will contradict prevailing religious thoughts of the day takes courage.

Someone said that conscience is the root of all true courage. Without courage, there is no conscience because virtues such as kindness, mercy, and generosity practiced in a vacuum are ultimately hollow. We need to celebrate acts of courage and the individuals who take these risks, sometimes against great odds. We would like to know we would choose to be the courageous one or, in turn, be the beneficiary of someone’s act of courage.

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