Today is the day before the eve of the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic.
Since I was introduced to the James Cameron version of the Titanic story by my sister, I’ll admit that I’ve had moments of sporting a flippant ‘tude towards the way the movie ended. I just couldn’t get past the whole Rose-doesn’t-share-the-door-with-Jack thing…plus the moment in time in which she solemnly tells him that she’ll “never let go, Jack” just before consigning him to the briny deep. Really? Woman, if you had split up the time spent in the water, he might have survived and you both could have lived happily ever after. The real tragedy of the Titanic was obscured by my frustration at the fake one. At some point, however, that all vanished and it took today for me to realize why.
My boys and I spent the day at a museum near us that hosted a Titanic Day event for homeschoolers. When we checked in, my oldest was handed a passport and a ticket. The second-class ticket was labeled with a name: Reverend Thomas R. D. Byles. We were informed that in the Titanic display, there was a roster to check to see whether he survived or not. My oldest got to participate in a scavenger hunt where he had to ask key characters for information about their experiences onboard the ship…why they were traveling, who they were with and did they survive. He got to see a working model of the Titanic’s engines and to talk with a fireman about his job shoveling coal for the boilers. He made a few toys not unlike the ones that the children might have played with as they sailed across the Atlantic on the Titanic. We got to listen to period music, and he learned how to play a horse race dice game (hello, Vegas?) as well as shuffleboard and skittles. We heard the Unsinkable Molly Brown (who by the way hated the name Molly and went by Maggie until they decided to turn her story into a Broadway musical) give a presentation on what the Titanic itself would have been like, introducing some of the more well-known passengers, and then describing the iceberg and its aftermath. This evening, to wrap up the whole experience, we watched a childproofed version of the James Cameron “Titanic” (sans the portrait and “wrestling” scenes). It was at the moment where a young immigrant woman clutching her tiny baby desperately asked the captain where she should go that I had an epiphany.
It is impossible to be flippant about the Titanic when one is married and a parent. I can’t imagine the agony of saying goodbye to my husband, knowing that I will probably never see him again. I can’t imagine the panic of trying to get my boys to a lifeboat, or the unspeakable horror of knowing that I failed.
Actually, I can imagine…all too clearly. The various scenarios have been playing on repeat in my head all day. The goal for the field trip was to get past the romanticized Hollywood and Broadway fuzz and the endless forensic analysis and conjecture of books and to really relive the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Mission accomplished.
In case you were wondering, our assigned passenger was supposed to be performing his brother’s wedding ceremony after he got to New York. He wasn’t able to be there. By all accounts, Reverend Byles refused at least one offer of a lifeboat space so that he could continue to give comfort and to administer last rites to the terrified passengers that were not able to escape the sinking ship.