Often it has been said that this glorious floating palace, the largest moving thing man had ever built, was something of a microcosm of the whole world. There were people from every walk of life on board. The rich and the poor. The good and the bad. Every one of them had their own plans in place for their lives. They were taking an active role, just by boarding, to bring those plans to pass. Many of them gave everything they had in order to be able to.
Even so, the ship set out on an ocean that is too vast to ever be ruled by man. A hundred years have passed since they did, and we are no closer to ruling it, now. Yet, the mysterious tragedy of the TITANIC remains vividly alive in our corporate memory, around the world, as we continue to ask why. It's a universal question. To which there has never been found an adequate answer.
Several things stand out starkly to me regarding the disaster. Three great forces hover over all. Morality, intervention, and sacrifice. These three things prevailed. But where did they come from? Why did they take control? And how did they rule? You must go with your own best guess, here, because there is no general consensus. But here are three stories that helped me decide…
LEAH AND FILLY AKS
|Leah Aks and her son Filly|
This young Jewish mother of eighteen, was going to America to join her husband, along with the ten month old son, whom he had never seen. She was traveling third class. When the time finally came for "women and children, only" to be allowed up on deck to get into lifeboats, the crowds at the bottom of the third class stairway were too pressing, and she couldn't get through. However, someone lifted her and her baby, and they were passed hand to hand over the top of the crowd. When they arrived at the boat deck, it was freezing, and Filly (short for Phillip) had nothing covering his head.
At which point, they found themselves standing next to Madeline Astor, the young wife of the famous millionaire, who was only nineteen, herself. She immediately took off her silk scarf, and tied it around the baby's head to keep him warm. Not many moments after that, a distraught man who had been turned away from the lifeboats by crew members who were trying to keep order, snatched Filly out of his mother's arms, shouted "I'll show you women and children, first!" and threw the baby overboard. Stricken with horror, Leah collapsed into a dead faint. Several minutes after that, someone picked her up off the deck and put her in one of the lifeboats. Number 13.
Filly did not go into the water. Instead, he landed miraculously in the lap of an Italian woman, seated in the already lowered lifeboat, number 11, who tucked him beneath her coat and kept him warm all night long. This woman became convinced that the baby had been given to her by God, Himself. When the lifeboats were picked up by the CARPATHIA, Leah was in such a state of mourning, she did not get out of the bed they put her in, for two days. When another kind woman finally persuaded her to at least go up on deck for a few moments of fresh air…
She heard and recognized Filly's cry. However, the Italian woman would not give him up. Leah appealed to the Captain, who had to make a "King Solomon decision." The baby had been circumcised, and the child of a Roman Catholic would not have been. So, mother and son were reunited.
This story made me realize that no evil is too great that God can not override and intervene.
ISIDOR AND IDA STRAUS…
|Isidor and Ida Straus|
The elderly wealthy couple who owned Macy's department store in New York, had been married for forty-one years. Mrs. Strauss refused to get into a lifeboat, stating, "We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go." But it was a terrifying situation, and she was finally coerced by friends to take a seat in lifeboat number 8. However, when she saw her husband turn to walk away, she immediately got out of the boat, again, and stayed with him until the end. Some reported seeing them sitting in deck chairs and talking together. Others say they saw them standing, locked in an embrace as the water steadily rose over the decks.
This story made me believe there is such a thing as a "great love" that can grow between a man and a woman.
SARAH AND THE CABIN BOY…
Sarah Agnes Stap, a nurse on TITANIC, owed her survival to a young cabin boy beside her who, when she was told to get into a lifeboat by the crew member in charge of that lifeboat, that there was room for her, she told the young cabin boy that as she was forty years old and had had the best years of her life, he should take her spot. The cabin boy's answer was to simply pick her up, and put her in the lifeboat.
This story made me realize that greatness and virtue are not set aside only for adults.
There were many acts of heroism that occurred that fateful night on the TITANIC. Many we will never know about. What we do know, is that these heroes were among the rich and the poor, the young and the old, and even the good and the bad. Some famous people who were reported to be nothing less than selfish and self-centered, not only gave up their lives for others, they did it indiscriminate of age or class, and -- in many cases -- helped tirelessly with getting the women and children into the boats.
None of them insisted how much more valuable their lives were than others. Not even President Taft's Military Aide (whom he greatly depended on), would take the seat of the least of those women and children. Never in history have so many diverse people been faced at the same time with a moment of choice… and literally rose to the moment. It was their finest moment, and I am in awe of them.
Looking this close into the disaster of the TITANIC has not left me with many answers. And I think maybe the "why" will still keep me looking back from time to time. But it has left me with a definite question. What if, throughout all our lives, we are continually being groomed for our own "finest moment." Maybe even more than one. Could we be so bold as these brave souls have been?