The recent tragedy of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy, brought back memories of the Titanic tragedy of 100 years ago. There may be some differences, and some similarities, but the unexpectedness and the mass evacuation must have linked the two events in many people’s mind.
The movie “Titanic”(1997) gave a dramatic account of the last hours of the liner and its passengers. The ship had left Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912 for New York on its maiden voyage, with hopes of breaking the time record for the voyage. As it drew closer to its destination, it gave every sign that it was going to break the record.
Suddenly the night crew on the bridge became aware that they were on collision course with an iceberg, one of the hazards in the North Atlantic in the month of April. Because of the great size of the ship, and its speed of travel, they knew there was little chance they could change course in time to avoid the collision.
While the crew were trying frantically to deal with this emergency, the passengers were enjoying a luxury meal, and preparing for entertainment and dancing. Even the poorer passengers, in the steerage section, enjoyed their own music and dancing, while the ship plowed relentlessly through the freezing waters towards the looming iceberg.
The movie director was able to build tension in the viewers by visually contrasting the three different situations – the ship moving inexorably in the direction of the iceberg, the captain and engineers frantically trying to reduce speed and change course, and the passengers enjoying their meal and entertainment, oblivious of the immediate threat to their safety and survival.
That scene is like a parable of our daily lives. We are often so taken up with things of secondary importance that we fail to notice we are in danger of losing things of primary importance. People can be so intent on getting that home, or getting that car, or getting that education, that they fail to see that they are risking their entire economic freedom until it is too late.
Our recent collision with the economic iceberg in 2008 was a “Titanic moment” for our nation and for our world. That moment has not yet ended, and continues to play out in slow motion.
There are moral and spiritual icebergs too, which are a danger to those who are so engrossed in the entertainment and dancing that they fail to ensure that their voyage is on the right course to reach its destination. This is as old as mankind itself. “In the days before the Flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the Ark. They did not know until the Flood came and carried them all away.” (Matthew 24, 38-39)
The sad fate of the Titanic and the Costa Concordia teach us lessons for life. Do not become so engrossed in what is less important that you lose what is most important. There is an Advent prayer that tries to keep us from making that mistake: “Lord, teach us so to navigate through the passing things of this world, that we never neglect what is permanent and eternal”.