Near, Far, Wherever You Are…

15 04 2012

One hundred years ago, a supposedly unsinkable ship hit an iceberg on it’s maiden voyage and sank, condemning two-thirds of its passengers and crew to an eternity in the locker of Davy Jones (guardian of watery seamen, not the recently deceased English member of The Monkees).

If anything sums up the fragility of human life and the over-reliance on the latest technology, the RMS Titanic was the original blueprint for a major disaster.

In the hundred years since, there have been many occasions where a large loss of human life is lamented, reviewed and blame apportioned. With the exception of war, which we expect to have a large human fatality rate, when a machine fails…it fails big time but the hand that guides the machine is normally human in origin.

The destruction of the twin towers was orchestrated by men flying machines into them, the recent sinking of the cruise ship in Italy was caused by the captain wanting to wave to his mate on the beach.

The Titanic was the biggest and fastest passenger ship ever built at that time. It would look small in comparison to the mega-liners that now routinely pootle around the globe ferrying their passengers to far-flung destinations while still enjoying a 24-hour buffet accompanied by the inane chatter of the entertainment staff.

But the Titanic was more than just a ship.

It was a statement of intent. It was designed to make the journey across the pond something that everyone could experience, not just the members of the Upper Classes or the wealthy. The Titanic was an early symbol of globalization, a realization that the world was shrinking and that consumers wanted the chance to travel the world or even start a new life.

The sinking was greeted with shock and dismay around the world. The loss of life was secondary in some cases to the fact that the White Star Line had displayed breathtaking arrogance in the construction of the ship and that they were looking at the bottom line rather than human safety. We have had 100 years of myths and legends; the band playing as the ship sunk, the lifeboats not being full, Captain Smith ignoring the iceberg warnings, the failure of other ships in the area to respond in time…the list is as well-known as the story.

It is with some irony that this week in Boston, we will be celebrating 100 years of another man-made institution. Fenway Park has reached a century of use and while most of its seating is less comfortable than the third class passengers or steerage had to endure on the Titanic, the fact that there is a baseball stadium still welcoming fans through its gates 100 years later puts the loss of the Titanic into perspective. There might even have been some passengers on the ship who were traveling over for the opening game at the Park…

Sometimes, I think about alternative realities. I would like to believe that for every decision made or action taken, that the alternative is played out somewhere in another dimension. It’s the stuff of science fiction, it has no basis in fact and despite numerous movies that have tackled the same subject, the “sliding doors” principle is just something that keeps me aware that for every action there must be a reaction.

Perhaps in another reality, the Titanic reached New York safely. It didn’t hit an iceberg, the voyage passed without incident and it went on to lead a very long and useful life before the cost of fuel and the explosion in cheap air-travel forced into a premature retirement. She would be preserved as a floating museum, a monument to what man could achieve 100 years ago.

And we never have to hear that awful Celine Dion song from a movie that used the disaster as the backdrop to a thinly veiled romance between the upper and lower classes.

Rest in watery peace, RMS Titanic. We knew you for too short a time but we have talked about you for 100 years. That is your true legacy.

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