Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Message From Titanic

“1,500 people went into the sea when Titanic sank from under us. There were twenty boats floating nearby, and only one came back. One. Six were saved from the water, myself included. Six, out of 1,500. Afterward, the 700 people left in the boats had nothing to do but wait... wait to die, wait to live, wait for an absolution, which would never come.”  -Rose, Titanic

            I recently watched James Cameron’s Titanic with my family. It was the first time I had seen it in six years or so. I routinely give my students a hard time about the movie, especially the girls who are all swoony over the love story between the nonexistent Jack and Rose. I tell them that Jack had to die, because in reality, a marriage between those two would have never worked out. Jack was a nice guy and all, and even honorable when given the opportunity. But he had to die heroically, sacrificially. Had they married, Rose would have gotten fed up with him rather quickly. She would have told him to get a real job instead of trying to eke out an existence drawing pictures. He would have gotten angry and called her a spoiled brat. But for those few, shining days aboard the Ship of Dreams, they saw the best of each other. Jack died to save Rose’s life, and she could carry that ideal of him with her forever. In that sense, it is indeed a beautiful love story.

            Real love stories are even better, though. To me, the love between the Strausses, who were only briefly shown in this version of the tale, would make a much better movie. I would love to see a film about them, about what they endured and overcame together over the course of fifty plus years of marriage. His refusal to get on a boat because he was a man,and her refusal to leave his side-that’s good stuff. It’s the real thing. I would be willing to bet that during all those years of marriage there were rough patches. There were hard times and arguments. Maybe they quarreled over silly things and then realized they were being stupid and made up, and he took her out to dinner. After so many years together, they were as one. There could be no separation. So they chose to go down with the ship, hands clasped, united. That’s love.

            As the ship was going down, families struggled to stay together. That’s what families are supposed to do. The band played on until the Boat Deck dipped under. They stayed at their post. That’s honor. The captain went down with his ship, as a good captain does. His body was never recovered. Meanwhile, the cowardly Bruce Ismay, president of the White Star Line, managed to slip onto a lifeboat and was saved-but for what? He was later so destroyed by the press and by his conscience that his health broke down and he died a lonely and haunted man. More first-class men were saved on that night than third-class children, because class distinctions trumped the rule of “Women and children first.” People justified their actions by talking about the chaos, the confusion, the cold. They defended themselves by saying that no one who was not actually there could possibly understand the terrible, intense horror. That is very true. Nevertheless, Benjamin Guggenheim and his butler when down “like gentlemen”, dressed in their evening dinner attire. John Jacob Astor, millionaire, also conducted himself like a man, going down with the ship after convincing his young, pregnant wife to get on a lifeboat. “You go and I’ll stay awhile.” Their Airedale, Kitty, was seen pacing the deck in bewilderment just before the ship sank, searching for her master…searching…

            It is these reports of heartbreak and heroism, of cowardice and class ,that make the story of the Titanic a source of endless fascination and speculation. There is debate as to what song was played at the last, while the band was still able to play. Nearer, My God, to Thee, certainly makes for the best story, and I prefer it myself, but the real point is that every band member died. They were people, real human beings with lives and families and friends. Every soul on that ship was a person. The 705 survivors, for the most part, preferred not to talk much about the experience. The last survivor, who was an infant when the ship went down, died not long ago. There are hundreds of untold stories, things that we will never know. Secrets and joys and sorrows. Desperation and wonder. They were all buried with the Titanic. The arrogance of those responsible, those who called it “The ship God Himself could not sink”, are reminders to us of the cost of that kind of pride. The courage of those who could have been saved but refused to leave loved ones or who simply followed God’s command of esteeming others better than themselves are reminders of that kind of selflessness. But there is one more message, one more lesson. It’s the thing that life always comes back to.Love.

            As the hundreds who were plunged into the icy waters of the Atlantic on that freezing April night began to realize that they were doomed, that they were dying, as they ceased to struggle and accepted their fate, they began calling out to one another across the dark, merciless sea. Eyewitness accounts stated that there was one thing repeated over and over, to friends, children, parents, husbands, wives. It was I love you. In the end, love is all that matters. It was what I whispered to my father as they took him away to surgery, and I knew deep in my soul that I would never see him again. It is what my husband tells our children and I every morning as he drops us off at school. It is what I tell my mother every time I talk to on the phone, before I hang up. I say it to my students, my sisters, my friends. I even say it to my dogs. Because you just never know what will happen at any given moment. Ships sink, even those said to be unsinkable. Accidents happen. Illnesses occur. Tragedies, big and small, may be just around the corner. We live in a world that, despite its incredible beauty and goodness, is sinful and fallen and yes, sometimes cruel.

            God Himself is not cruel. In Taylor Caldwell’s wonderful novel Tender Victory, young Jean, a victim of a World War II concentration camp who was kicked and beaten and may be a cripple for life, looks at his adoptive father and smiles sadly. “Yes, Papa. I understand. It is the world.” Jean has come to a saving knowledge of his Heavenly Father, of Christ’s atonement and great mercy, but he understands that the world does not see Him, that the world rejects His amazing Love. He saved us by His death because He knew there was no other way. We weren’t going to change on our own. We couldn’t. So he did Something. He did the craziest, most unimaginable thing there was. He suffered and died so that we could know Love. Those who died on Titanic that others might live were reflecting His sacrifice. If there is any purpose at all served by the Jack and Rose subplot of the film, it is Jack’s willingness to die for her.

            Without Jack and Rose, however, even without them, the truth of the real story still shines. At the very end, those who died knew that all you need is love. John Lennon understood that. I don’t know if the Beatles realized the importance of that message-but maybe they did. I believe it is built into all of us, this desire for Something, this craving for Love. I hope that each of the 705 survivors of Titanic went on to live lives that were successful-not by the narrow view and definition that we often have of “success”, but that they found fulfillment, that they found God-that they found Love.

            “He saved me, in every way that a person can be saved.” Rose said this of Jack. He saved her from a life of meaninglessness and shallowness, and then he saved her physically. So it is with Jesus. He saves us in every way, so that when we leave this life, there is before us Eternity. But what we stay alive for, as John Keating says in Dead Poet’s Society, are things like romance, beauty, Truth. We live to love and be loved. As the Word says, “Make Love your aim.”

“For faith, hope, and love remain, these three, but the greatest of these is love.”

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