Tuesday, 17 April 2012

100 Years - How Times Change

This past Saturday night/Sunday morning - the 14th and 15th of April - were the 100th anniversary of one of the most talked-about events of modern times.  No, not Snookie's impending maternity.

The calamity of the striking of an iceberg by the RMS Titanic and its subsequent sinking in the north Atlantic ocean in 1912.  The event, most recently "famous" from the James Cameron movie, occurred over several hours in the evening, the strike occurring just before midnight on the 14th, with the ship sinking about three hours later. Of course, as is well-known, about 1500 people perished, mostly succumbing to hypothermia in the cold water.

Setting aside Jack and Rose, my own memories of the ship centre on two things.

First, my father, who when I was a young child, had as a hobby, making small Revel models, mostly of WWI model planes.  Until my mother sold our home last year, I believe a model of Baron von Richtofen's red Fokker DR. I triplane, still hung from the ceiling of my brother James's room.  One of my dad's favourite models was a scale replica of the Titanic, and I remember him telling us many times the story of the ship.  Oddly, when discussing the sinking recently with my own six year old son, he asked the same question I remember asking my own father - when the people hit the water, why didn't they just climb out onto the iceberg?

Six year old logic remains somewhat constant, even if times do not.

The second is the Camp Hill Cemetery in my mother's home town of Halifax, in Nova Scotia, Canada.  Many of the bodies were not recovered in 1912, and in the cemetery is a large memorial to those lost at sea, Halifax being the closest city to the wreck site.  Walking from my mother's childhood home in Halifax to the Public Gardens adjacent to the cemetery, we would pause to look at the marker and listen to my father's stories about the ship.

At the centennial of the sinking, I am reminded how things have changed.  Compare the recent behaviour of the captain of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia, which recently ran aground in the Mediterranean Sea - who ran away as fast as he could, abandoning his ship - with Captain Edward Smith.  Or even better, those of passengers such as Mr and Mrs Isidor Straus, the owners of Macy's department stores.  Mr Straus, a first-class passenger, was offered a seat in one of the precious few lifeboats, but refused - the rules of the day dictating "women and children first."  His wife abandoned her own seat in the boats, commenting, "As we have lived, so shall we die.  Together."

To my mind's eye, the event is best summed up by Thomas Hardy's poem The Convergence of the Twain.

Well: while was fashioning 
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs 
       and urges everything

Prepared a sinister mate
For her--so gaily great--
A Shape of Ice, for the time
          fat and dissociate.

And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue
In shadowy silent distance
       grew the Iceberg too.

Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of
       their later history.
Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves
       of one August event,

Till the Spinner of the Years
Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes,
       and jars two hemispheres.

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