When I was a kid, I wished that I could do something really BIG and dramatic that would save the day. I think that I still do have this desire, and I think it is a common one. We humans want to know that our lives have a purpose and meaning. It’s all very well to talk about character when things in life are going so nicely. Of course, character is needed in everyday life. But it’s so much harder when you’re in the midst of scary events.
We’re usually not aware of these kinds of heroines until we put them in the context of history. The real-life heroines are the most admirable, for they show us that it is possible to have integrity for real and that it’s not just for fiction. One of my personal favorites ever since I was little has been Queen Esther—Persian queen (Jewish commoner) in disguise! Even though she was in the prime of life and could easily talk herself out of it, she felt a duty to go to the king on behalf of her people because she could do something.
One our favorite Lord of the Rings quotes goes something like this:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Thinking of history not that long past, there are the character role models of Diet Eman and Corrie ten Boom. They were also both women in the prime of life who did what they could while their country was occupied by the Nazi regime. I cannot think of anything more terrifying than facing a concentration camp, yet that is what they risked experiencing (and did experience) because of their belief that all people matter. What heart, what courage these women modeled! Come to think of it, why else do heroes do what they do, other than because of their value for human life and freedom? In the moment of their action, they put aside their safety and sometimes very lives for the treasuring of another.
I have never read the book, but I recently watched the movie The Help for the first time. This story is full of women in a particular place (deep Southern America) in a particular time (violently racial 1960’s). Some did what was popular and easy in the community—letting others bully them as to their personal decisions and relationships. Others saw their neighbors as human beings with souls. And still others decided to take a stand, to say ‘enough is enough’, and try to help each other in the middle of what was impossible conditions. They were scared; they were hesitant at first or said no at the beginning, because they were risking so much. But each decided that their friends and family were more important than their present fear and took the step forward that eventually became fruitful. No longer ‘Strange Fruit.’
Sometimes heroines will never see the fruit of their labors. In Tangled Ashes (Michele Phoenix), Marie is a seventeen-year-old girl living in an obscure village in France during WWII. She is just an ordinary teenager, but living in extraordinary times. She is forced to serve in a nearby manor house where strange and secretive things are taking place under the German occupation. She “hears nothing, she sees nothing”– until she is forced to face the facts that her best friend is pregnant with an enemy soldier. Suddenly, she cannot live for her preservation alone. She has a tiny, innocent life to look after and it ends up costing her dearly. But her love puts others first, and she has to trust that her courageous actions are more important in the long run.
What becomes of the people we have influence over? Maybe we will never know. Or maybe their lives will touch others in a great, wide ripple effect that never stops. All we can do is strive to pass on a heritage that will be life-giving and honoring for others. And maybe this idea is not relegated to the big, grandiose acts of queens, but starts with the everyday little yeses and considerations in this world.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2: 3,4)