The Titanic and Small things

Usually stories about the Titanic focus on big things – the size of the ship, the amount of wealth held by the wealthiest passengers, the large number of lives lost. But in listening to a story on Bob Edwards Weekend I was intrigued by the small things.

The ship nearly had a collision upon leaving Southampton, delaying her by an hour. When she struck the iceberg, she was still running an hour behind. If the lookouts had seen the iceberg 10 seconds earlier, they could have avoided it. If the ship had been going half a knot slower, they would have missed it. Small things.

Those small things added up to a huge event; in this case, a disaster. But it made me think about how much of our lives is composed of small things. The phone call we make – or put off. The book we read – or don’t pick up. The person whom we speak to – or ignore. Sometimes we see the impact of small things but many times we do not. Over and over again I hear from people the stories of how one person’s comment or question or caring made an impact on their lives.

We can approach this truth in one of two ways. We can live in paralyzing fear that one of our small things is going to sink a ship. Or we can live in trust, trusting that as we do the best we know how that we are in fact cooperating with something – or Someone – greater than ourselves. It’s not up to us to figure it all out. It’s only up to us to seek to be faithful in the small moments and trust that at least some of those small moments are changing our lives – or the lives of others – in ways we cannot yet see. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to us.

The other insight  I had from the interview is about the story of the gates being locked so that steerage passengers could not get out and go to the top of the ship. Both major movies about the Titanic have very dramatic scenes of hoards of poor passengers begging to have the gates opened so that they could escape. But it didn’t happen like that.

It was true that gates were locked, but they were locked when the ship left Southampton. Steerage passengers quite often carried with them lice and other infestations as well as communicable diseases. It was the regulation of US Immigration that they be segregated. When the Titanic was damaged, crew members unlocked the gates.

Steerage passengers had two barriers to survival. One was geography. Their rooms were at either end of the ship, meaning they had the farthest to go to reach the top and the lifeboats. The other obstacle was psychological.

The turn of the twentieth century was a time of huge class distinctions. The steerage passengers lived lives in which someone else always told then what to do. When things fell apart, they perished waiting on instructions from their “betters.”

It made me think about how many times we wait for something instead of taking action for our own welfare; for example, someone else giving us permission that it’s okay to do it. Or we don’t take action because of inner beliefs that keep us trapped just as surely as lessons of class and privilege kept those passengers trapped.

What are you waiting on?


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