On the Titanic and Truth
I've been thinking about the Titanic a lot lately. A ship that was believed to be unsinkable, due in part to the watertight bulkheads. A ship that was designed for 32 life rafts, carried only 20, a decision that was driven by aesthetic or money.
Each raft could safely carry 70 passengers. Had all 32 rafts been present, all 2,240 souls on board could have had a chance at survival. Sadly, with only 20 rafts on it's maiden and final voyage, the risk of 840 human lives was deemed worthwhile. After all, the ship was unsinkable.
However, one fatal flaw was glossed over in the pursuit of grandeur. The watertight bulkheads were not quite watertight.
The first time I saw Titanic was in theaters as a child. Before my mom would take me, we rented documentaries from Blockbuster. Any film that covers human tragedy should be approached with a degree of reverence, out of respect to the victims.
When consuming fiction, it's important to be equipped with facts, even if it's just for a fun night at the movies. 1,500 people died in the sinking of the Titanic. For perspective, that's roughly half the number of lives lost on 9/11.
With enough space on the available life rafts for 1,400 people, the missing 12 boats might seem unimportant. After all, the existing rafts were clearly underutilized.
On government assistance
The summer of 2012 was a pivotal moment in my life. I began the summer on a spiritual retreat and training in Georgia with an organization called Adventures in Missions. Everyone I met was going to be spending their summer facilitating missions trips between church youth groups and underserved communities around the world.
For me, I was on a team of four headed to Puerto Rico. The majority of our time there was in the projects of Luquillo playing games or doing crafts with the kids that lived there. One of my daily jobs was to go to the local school and pick up free lunch for the kids. The lunch ladies and I always had a good laugh, mostly at my imperfect Spanish.
When returning with lunch, I needed to ensure there was a poster of the Statue of Liberty hanging up. If the kids didn't know who to thank for the rice and beans, the government could shut down our program.
At 23:40 on Sunday night on April 14th in 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg. The ship finished sinking at 02:20 on the 15th, a duration that's 50 minutes shy of the James Cameron adaptation.
With 2 hours and 15 minutes until she's sunk, the Captain ordered the lifeboats uncovered and the passengers mustered. The radio operators sent out distress signals, but the ships location was inaccurate by 13.5 nautical miles.
The class of passengers determined the ratio of person to steward. First-class stewards provided hands-on assistance getting their passengers ready and on deck. Second- and third-class passengers were on their own after being told to head up, if they got that.
We had a beautiful summer in Puerto Rico. The house we lived in was up on the side of a mountain, with an incredible view of the ocean. On Saturday mornings, I'd sit up on the roof and eat a bowl of cereal.
Even in the best conditions though, water or electricity would shut off with little to no warning. To compensate, the house had a large water reserve on the roof, a few hundred gallons or so.
The scariest outage was over a weekend, new groups were scheduled to arrive and we had run out of water. We were using it sparingly, but a running toilet somehow chewed through the entire reserve in a couple of days. Even with proper planning, disaster can strike.
With 2 hours and 5 minutes left on the Titanic, many passengers were not complying with the orders. They didn't know the ship was sinking.
Some preferred to stay within the ship's interior, the warmth being preferred to the bitter, arctic air outside. Others played impromptu games of football on deck using scattered ice chunks.
Others thought being ordered to wear lifebelts was a joke.
We left Puerto Rico in early August, the last thing we needed to do was board up the house with the storm shutters. All the windows had metal slots outside that fit interlocking metal sheets to protect the house during hurricanes and tropical storms.
Willie was our neighbor all summer. He was very helpful and kind, providing us with fresh fruit regularly. After I had boarded up a majority of the windows, Willie told me he'd take care of the last ones.
The last windows were above a rotting portion of wood scaffolding and he knew I was willing to risk walking out on it to finish boarding the house. To protect me, he'd get just a ladder later and no one would need to walk on the rotting planks. A simple, kind, potentially life-saving gesture.
Before we left, Willie gave me a giant conch shell and I'll always remember him and his kindness that summer. We exchanged numbers and said farewell.
When Captain Smith realized the gravity of the situation, he froze. He realized how many people were about to die and no matter what he'd do wouldn't be able to stop a catastrophic loss of life. Even with a perfect evacuation, 840 lives would be doomed.
The crew was unprepared for such an emergency, as the ship is unsinkable, the lifeboat training was minimal. As such, boats were disembarking well under capacity, with lifeboat No. 7 lowered at 00:45 with 28 passengers and No. 6 lowered at 00:55, also with 28 passengers.
The crew did not know the lifeboat capacity or the grave mistake of such a simple miscalculation. Had they been armed with a little knowledge, these two ships alone could have saved at least 80 more lives.
All lifeboats launched were under capacity.
On September 20th, 2017 Hurricane Maria landed in Puerto Rico. While there was controversy in the death toll in the aftermath, the final count is estimated to be around 3,000, about the same as the lives lost on 9/11.
I've tried calling, but never got an answer. I hope Willie's okay. I hope all the children are okay. They should all be so big by now.
At 01:20, the situation on deck was clear the ship was sinking and not everyone was going to make it. Many of those that made it on deck were from first- and second-class passengers.
Many third-class (steerage) passengers were not able to make it out, being trapped in a maze of flooding corridors and gates in the lower decks. The gates were a requirement for US immigration laws, requiring segregation to control immigration and the spread of infectious diseases.
Margaret Murphy, an Irish survivor wrote in May 1912:
Before all the steerage passengers had even a chance of their lives, the Titanic's sailors fastened the doors and companionways leading up from the third-class section ... A crowd of men was trying to get up to a higher deck and were fighting the sailors; all striking and scuffling and swearing. Women and some children were there praying and crying. Then the sailors fastened down the hatchways leading to the third-class section. They said they wanted to keep the air down there so the vessel could stay up longer. It meant all hope was gone for those still down there.
A tragedy illustrating the perceived cost of human life. I wonder, were the 840 missing seats on the life rafts accounted for purely by the third-class passenger count? A quick search shows there were 709.
On October 3rd, 2017, President Trump visited Puerto Rico and tossed paper towels into the crowd, making light of an event with a casualty count the same size as 9/11. The disaster in Puerto Rico stirred something within me and from here on, I began following President Trump on Twitter.
Ask my mom, whenever we talked about the guy, I exclusively used his own shared perspective for my rants. I had to stop following him at the beginning of the pandemic for my own mental health. The guy is allergic to the truth.
I believe in the good in people though, maybe for Puerto Rico he really didn't know how bad it was. What is a lack of reverence in hindsight, was only a misunderstanding at the time.
It was January 17, 2020 when I first learned of the Covid-19 outbreak. My friend Matt sent a text joking, “The zombie outbreak has begun.” I began keeping track of articles as they rolled in over the next several weeks.
On March 4th, 2020, many in my area, myself included, began working from home based on guidance from our employers. The following week the official shelter in place orders were mandated for our county. We loaded up on enough soup to last a month, just in case supply chains shut down.
You can never predict for a catastrophe like the sinking of a ship, the devastation of a hurricane, or a global pandemic, but you can prepare for it. And when it comes, you can either accept that it's happening and deal with it or cross your fingers and say it'll go away in two weeks.
The real danger of a catastrophe isn't the event itself, but in the information about the event, particularly misinformation being regarded as true. Masks save lives, just in a different way than lifebelts.
We're currently at 9,280,000 cases in the US with 231,000 people dead. You can dispute and argue the numbers are artificially inflated, but excess mortality rate doesn't lie. People are dying at a higher rate than historical data would have predicted for this year.
That brings the current body count to be as bad as 154 Titanics or 77 9/11s.
In 2016, I wrote in Bernie Sanders on my ballot for president. I believed I should be uncompromising in voting for who I believe to be the best candidate to be leading my country. Very idealistic.
Having followed Trump on Twitter for the better part of his presidency, I gave the guy a chance. Having heard him stir up fear and hate against people of all races (well, not white people), I believe him to not be a good person. Having seen his response to the pandemic, I believe him to be inept. Having read the Bible cover to cover multiple times in addition to studying theology at Jerry Falwell's university, the man is not sent from God.
Yet despite all of this, I believe he will win the election tomorrow. I know how much fear I used to hold in my heart, if only subconscious. I know from my friends and family how terrified they are the world they do not know and how their rationale is based in fear.
So, let's circle back to the point of this entry.
I've spent the last four years studying echo chambers. After the last election, many people realized they didn't have the slightest clue how other Americans were feeling and were blind-sided by what they assumed was going to be a sure victory for Clinton.
Honestly, the social landscape is so much worse in 2020 than it was in 2016. The conclusion I've drawn is that everyone is fake. That's the primary driver as to why we as a society have poor ability of being able to separate fact from fiction.
People have their own agenda or believe their enemies to have an agenda and as such will make decisions to undermine what they believe that agenda to be. When it comes time to post on social media, people exclusively share things that conform to their existing beliefs, facts be damned, this is war, right?
If we're only allowing a limited perspective in to shape our beliefs, we'll have a limited perspective of reality. I'm constantly coming back to Plato's Allegory of the Cave. The gist is that a forced perception will always lead to a forced conclusion.
Tomorrow is going to be a great day of pain for a lot of people, the election alone will decide who will be hurting.
But I'm trying to tell you about my hurt. That's what all my essays are trying to achieve here. I'm being authentic with you, because for all of us to be better, we all have to start being real.
Otherwise we're going to live in fear forever, simply because we do not try and understand people that are different from ourselves.
Maybe when Trump visited Puerto Rico, he didn't have the full picture on the devastation that wreaked havoc across the island. Maybe when I knew the Pandemic was going to be a disaster, he was surrounded only by liars, because he fired anyone that spoke the truth to him, so he didn't know.
This is extending some benefit of the doubt that I'm uncomfortable with, but I'll cede this ground, if you need it.
On June 1st, 2020 in a plaza between St. John's Church and Lafayette Park, there was a peaceful protest. At the same time, President Trump was giving an address on needing to use force to restore law and order to the country.
The force began swiftly. People were tear gassed, the plaza cleared, including the volunteers at the church that were ministering to protestors.
After marching through the aftermath of a violently evacuated protest, Trump then posed in front of the church while holding up a Bible.
The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal bishop of Washington said of the event, “That is the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It speaks messages of love, of God, love of neighbor. I was outraged that he felt that he had the license to do that, and that he would abuse our sacred symbols and our sacred space in that way.”
I'm outraged too. Of everything I've learned from the Bible, this is truly unconscionable. From everything I've learned from watching Trump, this is seemingly in character.
In the following days, I had conversations with loved ones, claiming we “can't know his heart.” To which I say, “but we can know him by his fruit.” This behavior indicates to me rotting fruit.
People were protesting for human rights, which is the intended message of the Bible. Jesus showed up and challenged authority on behalf of the people at every opportunity. His crucifixion was the culmination of the injustices in his time.
Any leader that would order violence on anyone to take a prop photo with a sacred symbol is not a decent person, let alone a righteous person. To defend these actions otherwise makes me deeply ashamed that you might believe we worship the same God.
We're able to look back on the Titanic with hindsight. Proper training and more boats could have saved lives. Less hate and fear could have prevented the drowning of third-class passengers gated and locked below decks.
But at the end of the day, maybe the ship wouldn't have sunk at all if the bulkheads were actually watertight. The tops were not sealed, which allowed the water to spill from one bulkhead to the next, like a tilted ice cube tray. This is what caused the ship to snap in half.
Even still, without any bulkheads the ship would have sunk slower, providing time for nearby boats to assist with rescue and prevent loss of any life, even without enough boats.
The catastrophe of the Titanic was truly a culmination of things, but they all stem from the arrogance of believing the ship itself was unsinkable. We can't change the past, but we can learn from history to prevent tragedies in the future.
With the parallels I'm seeing with the Titanic and our current pandemic, I just hope we're all seeking truth today. We're going to need it for tomorrow.