RMS Titanic: Fate, Wrong Turns, and not Being Ismay

RMS Titanic: Fate, Wrong Turns, and not Being Ismay April 12, 2019

What if you mess up the big test?

It happens.

If you bought the wrong ticket to New York 107 years ago today, you were in danger. RMS Titanic did not have to hit a berg, but she certainly was not going to have enough lifeboats if she did. The RMS Titanic could have slowed down, but she could not be built with different steel. The lookouts might have had proper equipment on hand, but the water tight compartments were not going to reach further up on the ship than they were.

Some things were settled, other things were still to be decided. As the anniversary of the sinking of the great ship comes around again, I have been reading less about the tragedy itself and more about the lives of the survivors afterwards.

Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, was on his newest ship. He supervised building a world wonder. Like any maiden voyage, there were glitches, but today was looking good. In two days, Bruce Ismay would face the second greatest test of his life. Once the ship hit the iceberg there was “mathematical certainty” that many would die and the ship would go to the bottom of the Atlantic.

The Captain would go down with his ship as was his duty. The naval architect who supervised the building of the ship would die. The chairman of the line, who relished his power on the voyage, managed to find a spot on the lifeboats. Was he a coward? Perhaps not, but he was not a gentleman. Hundreds died. The headman lived.

The greatest test of his life came as he (slowly) realized what he had done. As a well placed, rich, socially privileged man (born to the right family for his job), he was officially vindicated. The public slowly soured on him, but vitally Ismay appeared to have turned on himself.

Nobody could discuss Titanic near him. Apparently, Ismay could not stop the what if’s. . . Endless what-if-erry. . . If the ship had gone slower, sailed further south, the night been less still, the burg more visible . . Ismay justified what he did that night to everyone, but he judged himself guilty and punished himself for decades, tormented by “if only it had been different.”

The problem was not in his stars, but in J. Bruce Ismay. 

Ismay knew it, really. Fate had given him a chance at heroism, he messed up. He slowly sank, isolated, unable to speak of what he saw that night and had to remember always. He had won lasting fame for his worst hour.

I cannot judge. I have not been on a doomed liner, but have failed. I know the temptation to pull an Ismay: withdraw, hide, become morose.

Instead, I look to the Apostle Peter. He failed an even bigger test and denied Jesus three times. He did this, even after Jesus warned Peter. Peter reacted badly at every turn: sleeping when he should have been praying, using a sword in the garden when he should not have done so, denying Jesus, and then running away.

Peter, like Ismay, got into a situation where his courage carried him too far. Ismay was brave enough to help with the boats calmly, but not brave enough to stay out of the lifeboats. Peter was brave enough to fight, get to the Temple, but not brave enough to testify.

Shame is powerful. Ismay was ruined by shame. Peter wept, but stayed alive. Jesus gave the Big Fisherman another chance and Peter took that chance. Ismay kept failing, Peter started serving.

The Apostle sinned . . . Greatly. He made restitution mightily.

God help me to be like Peter. I pray for the soul of J. Bruce Ismay.  May his soul and the souls of the all the faithful departed of RMS Titanic Rest In Peace.


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