Staying in Focus: From both the Large and the Small, Lessons Learned

Recently, my friend Linda and I, went to view the Titanic Exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh, NC.  This is one of several travelling exhibits of Titanic artifacts, and it was a quite a profound experience.

Upon presenting your ticket, you receive a boarding pass with the name and background of a passenger on this ill-fated ship.At the end of the exhibit you discover whether or not you were a victim or a survivor.This was my story:

I am Mrs. Peter Joseph (Catherine Rizk) travelling with my two young children 6-year-old son, Michael and 2-year-old Mary Anna. My husband had sent us to Lebanon in early 1912 so he could save money and get ahead in the United States and also, as I suffer from tuberculosis, we felt the climate would be gentler on my condition.   But our financial situation has improved, and my husband  has arranged for us to sail to New York on the Titanic. We are booked in third class.

As we toured the exhibit we felt that the simple items found with the Titanic on the ocean floor were the most touching:  a single leather shoe, a tiny silk drawstring pouch,  a vial of perfume, the tools of a tradesman with hopes of finding work in America.  It was amazing that fine china and other delicate items landed intact. These small items, seemingly insignificant when compared to a ship the size of the Titanic were very significant in the lives and hopes and dreams of the passengers on that fateful voyage. They told their story, a testament for their owners:  I was here.

We learned from a young man who was quite an authority on the Titanic,that all told, a crack here a dent there, the Titanic suffered only 12 square feet of damage from its collision with the iceberg,  What caused the ship to founder was the fact that those 12 square feet extended across 5 of its 16 watertight compartments. Any combination of four, and the ship would have stayed afloat.  It was the loss of that fifth compartment that sealed the fate of the Titanic and 700 of her 2200 passengers.

There was  an atmosphere of almost silent reverence in that exhibit. Step by step we were drawn forward into the exhibit, and closer to the tragic moment,, reading  along as events progressed.  When we entered the room describing the ship’s sinking, the air was colder, indicating the ship had entered the icefield.  Due to a mix-up, there were no binoculars in the crow’s nest that night.  The man posted there peered into a moonless night, the sea calm.  When he spied the iceberg and rang the bell, it was too late.  In the time it took the Titanic to turn, its fate was already sealed.  Had he either been a little quicker or a little slower in ringing the bell, the ship would have passed safely.  It was that close.

The exhibit has an ice wall you can touch, as cold as the water was that night.  I could not keep my hand on it for several seconds at a time. Anyone in that water did not last long, perhaps only minutes for hypothermia to take over.

There is a screen showing the sinking of the ship, the  tall smokestacks falling over, the flashes of fire, and the lights going out as the ships breaks in two parts and falls to the ocean floor, where she would lie undiscovered for 73 years.  The time it took the ship to sink: 2 hours 40 minutes..  The remains of the Titanic were discovered in 1985

Another screen depicts 3D video of the ship as it appears today, jagged pieces of metal, encrusted with the growth of sea creatures are all that is left of the walls; window openings look with sightless eyes at the wreckage beyond. Time passes for the Titanic as it does for us. According to Wikipedia, only 2 survivors remain alive, and being quite young, do not remember the experience. The last American survivor and the last one to remember the sinking of the Titanic, died in May, 2006. She was 100 years old. The sea is quickly absorbing the Titanic, and despite her size, all that will someday remain will be these artifacts, and our memories.

. And what of Mrs Joseph at this time?

We didn’t know what had happened.  I  dressed my children and we ran for the lifeboats.  In the confusion, Michael became separated from us. 

That’s as much as I can tell you, without possibly spoiling it for someone else who receives the Joseph’s boarding pass on their visit to the exhibit. If you want to know their fate, go to http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org and enter her name.

It is almost unimaginable, what happened to this ship.  I think that is what draws us to its story.  We feel compelled to make some sense out of that series of events and there is none, really.  When huge numbers of people die at one time, it is hard for us to grasp the enormity of the event. But by breaking that number into individual faces the exhibit really personalizes the tragedy and that’s what makes its impact so powerful. 700 is just an abstract number, but knowing the story of just one of them brings the sad reality of this event into our minds and our hearts.

I understand the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC also does this, and I would like to go there someday and experience that. I imagine it would be a life-changing experience.

If the Titanic exhibit comes to your city, I urge you to go and see it., All such tragedies help us to maintain mindfulness in our lives. To be aware of the fact that our time is limited and that we should be making the most out of the moments in our lives. If this exhibit, if the objects found and recovered have any voice at all, it is the combined voices of the 700 who perished.:

Weep not for me for I am at rest. But hold on to life with both hands, live well while you have the time, and be happy.

That is the message -, the legacy of the Titanic.  One we should all heed.

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