In 1938, a twenty-nine year old clerk from the London Stock Exchange recognized a desperate need in Nazi-occupied Prague, Czechoslovakia. There were a lot of children in danger from the impending war who had to be rescued. So Nicholas Winton arranged for more than 650 children to be put on trains, transported through Germany, and eventually brought to England. You can read his story here: CBS News Story
Then, as if nothing had ever happened, Nicholas went back to his job. For nearly fifty years he didn’t even speak of what he’d done, until his wife found his documents in their attic. After his heroics were brought to light, Winton downplayed his role in the events, and until his death last week he remained humble about what he had done. Winton never seemed to see his actions as praiseworthy in his own mind. He saw only a moral imperative to save children.
I love Winton’s story, and although later in life he gained notoriety for what he had done, primarily because others found out about it, he never saw himself as much more than a simple bank clerk. He lived a quiet life, and when things needed to be done, he did them.
His story reminds me of so many parents I know, parents who are good people. They don’t perceive themselves as heroes, nor are they seeking the limelight. They love their families, and when their circumstances changed and life presented them with a challenge, they simply stepped up to that challenge.
Every day, these parents are doing what needs to be done, working hard to provide the best for their families. Many of these parents don’t have such a positive view, though. They would say that their life more closely resembles chaos.
Looking closely at Winton’s story, noting all he had to arrange to get these children out of occupied territory, you would probably be surprised to see how similar his daunting list of tasks was to the daunting tasks faced by many of these parents. The British government required each of these children have a foster family, which carried with it a fifty-dollar fee. He had to bribe officials, and arrange travel through hostile countries by train, then provide several ferries to the eventual destination. Now, I know the day-to-day experience of most families doesn’t involve transporting your children through war-zones, but some days it can certainly feel like it, and the daily, minute details can be just as overwhelming.
While World War II involved many stories of heroism, I can guarantee you that for all the stories we know, there are at least ten more we don’t know or have never heard. Doubtless, everyday people did the right thing in the right moment countless times, and never received any credit.
I know that for every family I’m aware of, there are many more living courageous, sacrificial lives daily. They take up the mantle every day, doing what needs to be done, not thinking anything of their labor for those they love.
I know many of those days are tough, and it seems like your work isn’t making a difference. Some days pass in no time, others feel like they drag on. Many of you are doing everything for others, not taking time for yourselves. I remember one year, sitting on the couch with my wife, watching the Oscars and realizing we had not seen any movie nominated in any category. For some of you the non-stop self-sacrifice goes on not just for one year, but many.
I know that sometimes you think what you do you do in obscurity, and you wonder if anyone cares or notices.
I want you to know this: maybe your family hasn’t said so in a while, or maybe those you care for don’t have the ability to tell you so, but what you are doing matters. If Winton had saved one child, it may not have gotten his story told, but it would have been worthwhile none the less.
What you do is not a one-time event, but a daily choice to do what needs to be done. Whether you recognize it or not, and even if no one is telling you, you are a hero.