Ordinary and extraordinary
We all know the setting of the tragedy, a black, star-filled night on a cold, glass-calm North Atlantic some 1,300 kilometres east of Halifax. We know the time the drama played out, between 23:40 on April 14 and 2:20 April 15, 1912. Likely we long ago came to our own conclusions on the basic cause of the calamity - human hubris defying nature, over-reliance on technology to assure safety or possibly corporate goals trumping common sense.
We also have heard many of the personal stories of victims and survivors of this disaster. Here is another one. Miss Edwina Troutt came from a large family in Bath, England. She was originally planning to cross the Atlantic for the third time in her life aboard the liner Oceanic, but coal shortages due to strikes in England forced agents to rebook her on the Titanic. Her second class ticket actually cost less than some of the other passengers assigned to steerage. She had planned her voyage around the due date of a pregnant sister then living in Massachusetts.
When the great ship hit the iceberg, Winnie, as my family knew her, had already settled in for the night with her two travelling companions in their cabin on E Deck. She made her way up to the deck to investigate the commotion only in her dressing gown, but when she saw the lifeboats being prepared she quickly returned below for her heavier coat. Winnie made it back up minutes later clutching a prayer book and a toothbrush, of all things.
Winnie had been loaded into lifeboat 16 when a third class passenger, Charles Tannous, from Lebanon, begged for someone to take his five-month old nephew, Essid, to safety with them. Winnie volunteered to take the baby. Charles would drown that night. Only later, upon the rescue ship CarpathiaSSRqs arrival in New York City, would the baby be reunited with his distraught mother from whom he had been separated in the confusion.
I met my great aunt Winnie only once in the late 1950s. She visited our home when I was eight or nine years old. My great uncle, James Corrigan, had brought his new wife to Kansas City from their California home to visit his sister - my grandmother and her growing clan. It was the second marriage for both aunt Winnie and uncle Jim.
Take away that one extraordinary night 100 years ago from Winnie’s life and her life story would have unfolded in an ordinary way. A young clerk at a family tobacco shop in England migrates to the United States, following other relatives in search of a better life. Jobs waitressing, working as a domestic and fruit picking in California got her by until she married her first husband. They ran a bakery in Hollywood.
Most of us see our lives unfolding as well in very ordinary ways but these are extraordinary times. We probably won’t see our lives punctuated by one extraordinary night, as my Aunt Winnie did, but the reality is that our world is heading full throttle through hazards potentially far more cataclysmic than that ice field the Titanic floundered in.
Those at the helm of our common voyage on spaceship Earth seem as oblivious to the warnings around them as the officers of the Titanic did. Why else would they speed, heedless of the environmental cost, into developing resources and their infrastructure that potentially worsen the damage? How else can we explain our collective failure to find alternatives to war and the spending of trillions of dollars on arms instead of eliminating hunger and disease or developing benign energy sources?
If we maintain the course we are currently on we know what will happen. We know that the poor will bear the greatest burden, just like the steerage passengers did 100 years ago. However all will suffer the consequences. Can we make our lives extraordinary by demanding a drastic course change, slowing or even stopping our mindless race towards destruction?