Early morning on 15th April, 1912. The sun rose over the Atlantic ocean as the shivering, shellshocked survivors of Titanic were helped from their flimsy lifeboats aboard the overloaded little steam liner Carpathia. Once they were safely aboard, starting to warm, starting to believe they were safe at last, I wonder how many of them watched the traces of colour flood the sky as the sun rose after their dark, icy, terrible night. I wonder what they were thinking. I do wonder if any of them watched the sun rise that morning, or any of the mornings to come as they made their slow progress to New York, and made vows, promises to themselves, of how they were going to use this second chance at life, this unexpected sunrise.
Some of those who stood on the deck of Carpathia that morning were haunted by the Titanic tragedy for the rest of their lives. Some, like the famously unsinkable Molly Brown, became celebrities of the whole affair, and used their fame and their stories to raise money for those who had lost everything when Titanic sank. One survivor, actress Dorothy Gibson, even starred in a film of the disaster – playing herself, of course (and, she claimed, wearing the same dress in which she had been rescued). Some, like the stewardess Violet Jessop, changed the direction of their lives; Violet became a nurse, only to find herself posted as a wartime nurse to the Britannic, Titanic’s sister ship, and in a strange case of history repeating itself, surviving its sinking during World War 1. Some survivors never truly recovered, some refused to talk about it, some told their stories again and again for the rest of their days. All were changed forever as a result of their experiences. And I wonder how many of them reflected on those changes, reassessed their lives, made those internal promises, as they looked across the Atlantic from the decks of Carpathia exactly 100 years ago today.
It often happens that after a traumatic event or a narrow escape we find ourselves making those kind of promises. We will stop wasting our lives doing things of no significance. We will follow the dreams that we once had, take the risk to do the things we feel we were born to do. We will tell our loved ones that we love them while we have the chance. We will make amends, right wrongs, do our best to live our lives with no regrets. Tragedy often brings a kind of clarity that awakens us from the mundane and the everyday, and invites us to ask the big question: what am I doing with my one-and-only life?
It’s a good question, and we don’t have to wait for a time of trial to ask it. Let’s stand on the decks of Carpathia today and share in some of the insights of those shivering survivors. Every sunrise is a gift. Every day is a blessing. Every breath cannot be taken for granted. Every life is full of boundless possibilities and opportunities. What would I do today if I truly realised how precious, how fragile and how beautiful life really is? Whatever that thing is, Lord God, help me to do it today.