What is it about the Titanic we find so compelling? Yes, it was an epic maritime disaster, but it occurred a hundred years ago, and we already know how the story ends. Still we line up to see the latest movie version and read the newest book, even if it means waiting through forty-two library holds.
It felt like impending disaster when my husband invited me to his soccer association dinner. Its purpose–to thank board members’ wives and husbands for tolerating their spouses’ hours of service to the association when they could have been home cleaning out the garage. My preferred gift would’ve been to not have to dress up and go to a fancy restaurant with a bunch of strangers. I saw icebergs flashing before my eyes, and headed for the lifeboats.
Me: “I don’t know if I can find a babysitter for Bea.”
Thom: “She’s seventeen years old.”
Me: “But it’s finals week.”
Thom: “She can handle it.”
Me: “I don’t want to sit for three hours in panty hose listening to strangers talk over my head in a foreign tongue. I don’t speak Soccer.”
Thom: “And I don’t want to be the only one there without a significant other.”
Me: “You’re fifty-five years old. You can handle it.”
Thom: “I went to your family reunion.”
He had me. There was no escape. I was doomed.
Upon our arrival, someone filled my wine glass, the next best thing to a life vest. As they kicked soccer talk up and down the table, I speculated about the other couples’ relationships—research for my next novel. But when travel stories surfaced, my ears perked up.
An older couple was seated across from us, and the husband mentioned living in Belfast in 1956. I jumped into the game and headed the conversation back to him. Born in Belfast, he immigrated to the US as a young man. His wife, who he called Lady Marion, was a second generation Finn. She told of their travels to visit family still in Finland, and how she and John met and fell in love. But their most interesting story was about each one’s independent link to the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912.
Marion’s grandmother and her family was booked to sail on the Titanic’s maiden voyage. When her little boy took ill, reluctantly they postponed their journey. The Titanic sailed without them, and Marion’s grandmother lived to tell the tale. For that, they are still thanking God today.
Meanwhile, in Belfast, John’s grandfather was a riveter who helped build the Titanic. Everyone in Belfast, everyone in the whole country, John said, took pride and felt personally invested. When the tragic news came, grown men cried in the streets. John said they have never recovered from that tragedy. He said they never would.
Thus the story goes on, a tragedy that has spanned the generations and left its mark upon them, he, in a way, a lingering victim and she a grateful survivor. It seemed to me poetic justice that they had found each other.
I am so glad I didn’t jump ship that night! I filled up my story bank, met interesting people, earned my husband’s undying gratitude for not embarrassing him in front of his friends, and made a Titanic connection. Not just John and Marion, although I hope our paths will cross again—and they probably will at next year’s soccer dinner.
I also figured out the enduring appeal of the Titanic. Of course, there are the larger elements of an epic story; the morbid fascination with disaster, the brush with fate, the sinking of the unsinkable, death as the ultimate equalizer between the one percent and the other ninety-nine. But the Titanic was also a petri dish, a microcosm where the best and the worst of humanity was displayed for all the world and for all time. So many mistakes, so much heroism, so much courage and sorrow, so much love and sacrifice, so very many little stories imbedded into one great one.
We’re not done with the Titanic. As John said, we won’t ever be. It is a story we need to hear again and again, in all its reincarnations. Wouldn’t you stand in line to see them? Or put the newest one on hold at your library? Or maybe even write one yourself.
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Transformations.
That petri dish idea is very perceptive, and may explain the fascination. Also, people are fascinated to see the very rich encounter the power of Mother Nature and all their money cannot save them. Especially after that boast that the ship was unsinkable….
I notice in ship movies, when people are at the rail, and the sea is beyond, the horizon does not swoop up and down as it does in reality. They don’t want the whole movie house to be full of barfing people.
I think such beautiful thoughts….
I’m not a competitive sports fan at all, but soccer is one team sport I have enjoyed watching.
As you can imagine things are revving up here in Northern ireland for the centenary of the sinking. All the schools are doing Titanic projects and I got some great creative writing from some 11 year old in Belfast. I loved your Titanic tale. My cynical journalist daughter says “They built a ship, It sank. Get over it!” but still the fascination remains for most people.. Our new Museum opens at the end of March in Belfast, right beside where she was built. If people want to listen to the accounts of survivors check out http://www.nmni.com/titanic and listenm to the audio.
I read about the Titanic museum opening in Belfast this spring. It looks like a fantastic experience. We went through the traveling Titanic exhibit when it came to Seattle, and it was worth the wait. One day I hope to get back to Belfast and see your museum. (We went to your open air museum a LONG time ago, and my daughter and I finally got to the Giants’ Causeway a couple years ago.) I think your daughter’s abbreviated story is very funny. Thanks for the website with survivors’ stories. I will be checking it out. And thanks for dropping by the blog.
Hi Anne, Your “beautiful thoughts” made me laugh aloud. I do like soccer, but mostly when one of my children is actually on the field. thanks so much for stopping by.
Hey, life is flying past at an incredible pace; the Titanic reminds us how we may be on top of the world one day, and gone the next. Life can be random; we are the lucky ones, still here, whose parents, grandparents, and great-great-greats have all survived since the dawn of time.
Thanks for the reminder!
Dear Secret Admirer, that’s a lovely thought. Thanks for stopping by.
Synchronicity. It’s a beautiful thing. Oh, and pantyhose are out. Next time you can feel more comfortable before you even walk out of your door! 😉
Hi Sue, Yep, lose the panty hose. Thanks for stopping by.
Hi Naomi! You commented on my blog post, the link in your comment ended up in an empty page but I googled you and I’m really glad that I did. You write beautifully and I like following talented writers. Thank you for leaving me such an encouraging comment, it means a great deal for me, especially coming from a talented writer like you. Looking forward to more posts from you! Annika
Hi Annika, thank you so much for stopping by, and thank you for your kind words. I went back to your site, and your photography is stellar. I signed up to follow you so that I could begin each day with beauty and serenity.
Reblogged this on Writing Between the Lines and commented:
With the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic almost upon us, I decided to raid the archives for this post.
I like the whole aspect of having a good time, when we least expect it and well, the titanic is a story that will never be forgotten.
Truth in paradox: The folly of flaunting our human pride; the tragedy of the fall; repenting from our sins of omission and co-mission (the things that should never happen but do, and the things that should happen but don’t); the survivors who are nicked in the neck by death, and have to make sense of it. I’m not religious, but the themes work out as in all great stories. Who are we; why are we here; what difference does it make; and why is this precious life so short? We stand on the precipice of life and death in each moment. It just hurts to see it so clearly. The real question is, “how do we face it?” Like the fool in the Tarrot deck, do we smile as we step over the cliff . . .? I love your stories, Miss “N”
Wow! I love yours! Thank you for the thoughtful reply, Rebecca. Much food for thought!
It was indeed a snapshot in time and possibly became the great turning point, happening as it did just before the commencement of the first world war.
I have read that some historians actually mark the sinking of the Titanic as the end of the Edwardian era, King Edward reigned from 1901-1910 and the period was associated with adventurous travel, fashion, a grand lifestyle and the introduction of major developments in industry and technology, so many have suggested this era continued up to the sinking of the Titanic, a major feat in engineering and design, a cross section of society, its destruction a significant turning point. Not for a very long time would people ever be so confident and courageous and have the feeling that everything would only get bigger and better, an air of optimism was stifled by this tragedy and would continue to humble them through the wars that followed.
Thanks for linking this through to my post Naomi.
Thank you, Claire!
Hi Claire, I hope my readers will check out this link back to your really well written article and review of “A Night to Remember.”
Thank you for that too Naomi 🙂
Well written piece, and appropriate for frizz’s challenge. I’m one of those rare birds who is not so fascinated by the Titanic story (didn’t like the movie at all), and I still found your article interesting!
One of the reasons people like scary stories is to have a safe place from which to experience danger and fear. I think that the true story of the Titanic provides a place for people to experience that, to face their fears, to run through their mind what their own responses might be in that desperate situation.
Thank you, Bumba, for sharing your very kind comment!
my grandson liked me very much,
when I demonstrated the TITANIC accident:
Dear Frizz, I can tell that you are a natural storyteller. What a lucky boy your grandson is!
i really loved reading this… very beautifully written
Best Titanic scene ever in a movie is in Time Bandits (just to add a little levity) – wonderful post – the world is truly such a small place where sooner or later we all become knit together in the larger story…
I have never seen that, but will try to check that out. On the television program, Radio News, there was a rather strange episode where the modern day station crew was placed on the Titanic in a dreamlike “what-if” show that had a comedic bent.
Thank you for your visit, and for taking the time to share a comment!
I enjoyed your story that started out with the comparison and ended with a fateful meeting at your soccer club dinner. Maybe the Titanic’s sinking also tied to an era and style of living fading in the way of modernity.
Wonder-FULL, as always. Love the picture of Great Grandma Betty (Bertha, Betia) and Rose.
Good eye, Richard! There aren’t very many of my readers who would recognize the people in that photo! Thanks for the visit and for sharing your kind response. I hope you and the kids are well!
You’re welcome, Naomi. I always love your blogs. We’re all fine. Saw Nicole yesterday. She just returned from 3 months in Thailand. Contract work and art. Rory is doing well with a full beard and all. Dan has lost over 40 lbs and is on a roll, no butter. Jeff and Nicole and the grandkids are super-duper. Will be here in June.
All good! Give them all my best!