“While the Titanic was sinking, and during the whole time I was working at the boats, I held to the truth, thereby eliminating all fear.” Commander Charles Herbert Lightoller DSC & Bar, RD, RNR, 30 March 1874 – 8 December 1952
You may or may not be aware that the Titanic sank 100 years ago, you may even be blissfully unaware of the mountain of books, international exhibitions, TV specials and re-released ‘now in 3D movie’ that have traveled in her wake.
If you ask anyone who knows the story of that fateful night, they may talk of the personal tragedy, the bizarre set of circumstances that led up to the ship’s inevitable demise, the lack of life boats, the way some lifeboats were lowered from the foundering ship only half full, the band of eight musicians who chose to stay and played to calm the frightened passengers and crew, until all eight were lost to the icy sea.
So many people’s lives entwined with the building and the fate of that ship.
“As far as is possible, unsinkable.” from a White Star promotional flyer for the Titanic and Olympia, 1912
As far as is possible. Humanly possible that is. We can plan, build, reinforce, check, believe that we are ready for anything. But when we are face to face with the limits of our abilities, what then? For the answer to that we have to look a little deeper, below the surface.
Commander Charles Herbert Lightoller DSC & Bar, RD, RNR, 30 March 1874 – 8 December 1952.
On the surface we learn very little about this man, the last survivor to be hauled from the sea at least 2 hours after the Titanic was lost. What truth did Charles Lightoller hold on to the night he came face to face with his own limitations?
As I looked below the surface of Lightoller’s life, I found that this was not the first time that he had faced terrible uncertainty and survived. Lightoller was born to a poor family in England. His mother died soon after his birth, his father abandoned him and at the tender age of 13, Lightoller began a gruelling 4 year seafaring apprenticeship. On only his second voyage, his ship was forced to harbour in Rio de Janeiro, as revolution and a virulent small pox epidemic raged all around. He was commended for fighting a fierce cargo fire whilst sailing on the Indian Ocean and for a while gave up the sea (!) to try his hand at becoming a cowboy in Alberta, Canada. He limped back to England penniless.
Lightoller returned to life at sea and in January 1900, he joined the White Star Line, eventually accepting the position of First Officer on the Titanic two weeks before her first and only voyage. Lightoller had finished his shift on the bridge not long before the ship met the mountain of drifting ice that sunk her. According to his testimony, this is what happened next:
“While the Titanic was sinking, and during the whole time I was working at the boats, I held to the truth, thereby eliminating all fear. I was on the port side where all boats were got away without a hitch, the last one, a flat-bottomed collapsible, floating off the deck. I called on men to follow me up on top of the officers’ quarters to cut adrift the last boat. We had no time to open it up, so just hove her down to the deck. I ran across the deck and could see that all material work was finished, so from where I was above the bridge, I walked into the water.
The sudden immersion in this penetratingly cold water for a few seconds overcame all thought, and I struck out blindly for the crow’s-nest which is on the foremast and then just above the water. I found myself drawn with great force against the grating covering the mouth of the huge forward blower. In this position I went below the surface with the ship.
These words from the 91st Psalm came to me so distinctly: He shall give His angels charge over thee. Immediately, I think, I was thrown away from the blower and came up to find a piece of wood in my hand which seemed to be attached to the top of the funnel by a wire. A second time I went down and again came to the surface. My piece of wood was gone, but alongside me was the flat-bottomed collapsible boat which I had thrown down on the other side of the ship. This I laid hold of, but made no attempt to board it. It was clear to me there was a divine power and it seemed perfectly natural to rely on it with the spiritual understanding spoken of in the Bible.
With the sinking of a great ship like the Titanic, there was also the fear of suction to overcome, and at this time the forward funnel fell, throwing the boat, me, and other survivors about twenty feet clear of the ship, so that of suction we felt nothing. About thirty of us floated the remainder of the night on the upturned boat. At daybreak we found two life-boats floating nearby, into which we were taken. Reaction or effects from the immersion were none; and though surprise has been expressed by very many, it only goes to prove that with God all things are possible.” Lieut. C.H. Lightoller, RNR, October 1912, Christian Science Journal
We can plan, build, reinforce, check, believe that we are ready for anything. But when we are face to face with the impossible, what then? With God all things are possible. Here is truth we can hold to.
He believes in you.