One of the most common questions we had in tenth grade German history class, which mainly covered Nazi Germany and WWII, was the following: “Why did no one do anything?”
Do you know how many times someone tried to assassinate Hitler? 42. At least 42 times, a courageous individual or group of people said: “This far and no further. This man must be stopped. He is a monster, and there is no other way.” And at least 42 times, they failed. Sometimes, evil slips through – just like miracles do.
The lesson here is twofold: First, it’s easy to see the world in black and white when you look back at events that happened 50 years before you were born. Germany was never split into complicit criminals, resigned bystanders, and a handful of heroes. Life is more complicated than “hero or Nero.” Many of us live in the grey, by choice or by chance, and most of us trade thousands of labels for one another throughout our lifetimes, never thinking we might end up in history books which have room for just one.
The second lesson is illuminated brilliantly by Jannis Niewöhner’s line in Munich: The Edge of War: “Hoping is waiting for someone else to do it.” I don’t agree with what he says next: “We’d all be much better off without it.”
There’s a saying that “hope dies last,” and I think that’s important. Even more so, however, I want to remember that hope comes last – it’s the thing you do at the end. Only when you’ve exhausted every resource, summoned all the courage you can possibly muster, and spent every last ounce of attention, willpower, and energy on whatever matters so much to you, only then can you let go and say, “Thy will be done. The rest is in the universe’s hands.”
Few of us will turn into still images looked at by 16-year-olds through the biased spyglass of history, but life offers all of us millions of small chances to say the right words, be in the right room, or do the right thing. Let’s use these chances while we can so we may hope not just on behalf of the dead in history class but at the very end of our best shot.
Your truest life is yours to live. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.