Time-Travel Puts You On the Titanic

How do you spend the last few days you have left?

Photo by Alex Glebov on Unsplash

Empowered with the gift of time-travel, we can venture into the past once. We can also go to only one moment in the past.

It is 1:31 PM on April 11th, 1912. We are in Queenstown (today Cobh), Ireland. Standing on the deck of the RMS Titanic, we stare down at the well-wishers watching as the anchor of the grand, and biggest ship afloat, breaks off the bottom and is pulled back into the ship.

After a small pause, when time seems to have stopped completely, the ship slowly begins to move in the direction of the wide-open sea. It is destined for America, New York City to be exact. In exactly 4,969 minutes from that moment, the great ship, a wonder of the world, will be completely submerged by the icy waters of the north Atlantic.

Gifted with the knowledge of the future, thanks in part to the James Cameron movie The Titanic, we know exactly what is going to happen. The rules of time-travel being what they are, however, we can’t share this insight with anyone. The words simply won’t be heard. So what would we do? How do we act? How do we live out the next four days knowing that on that night, when the air starts biting at our cheeks a bit more noticeably, the ship will slam into that iceberg?

Being a Titanic-buff, I have read everything that could be read, and I have watched all that could be watched. Many times, I have planned what my actions would if I somehow wound up on the ship. I often think that I might spend my final days creating some sort of floatation device that could be set off into the water just near the waterline — launch from any spot higher guarantee that the do-it-yourself boat would break apart upon landing.

On other occasions, I have imagined that my main priority would be to ensure the boats were full before being sent off into the water; but that might have gotten me arrested, or even shot, as the sailors are the law on the sea. Such behavior could be construed as mutinous. Due to the extreme stratification of society then, helping get the poor passengers out of the third-class decks, sooner than before the women and children of the first class were saved, might again see me getting detained. Only when things got really bad would any such “heroic” efforts be permitted— when it would already be way too late given that most of the lifeboats were already in the water.

Of the 2,201 passengers on board, 1,489 would die, most from the third-class compartments, in those waters, not far from the iceberg. In my fantasy, I can never decide on my class — first, second or third.

Had I been a first-class “gentleman,” there is a chance I might have been able to persuade the sailors into taking more bold action — such was, and is, the power of wealth. In 109 years, little has changed in this department. Perhaps, while sipping a cognac with Capitan Smith, or maybe even the White Star Lines Chairman, J. Bruce Ismay, I could have convinced them that the should make a slower go at it — maybe scare them with terrible stories; or, manipulate their egos for glory by telling them them they should not bother with the measurements that mere mortals find so important like getting to New York so fast. Racing against time was beneath the glory of that ship, a fool’s game: “Why hurry when you are in the most beautiful place in the world,” could have been the slogan?

The key to survival, ultimately, was to not fall into that water. I think something like six people were actually pulled from it. The water temperature was -2.2 degrees. Shock would have set in almost immediately, and have incapacitated the victims. Interestingly, the British medical journal The Lancet in 2003 declared that very few of the victims actually drowned; rather, they died from “hypothermia by immersion.” Meaning, that had they been taken on board the Carpathia, the first ship to arrive at the scene one hour and fifty minutes after the sinking, quite a few might have regained life after literally thawing out.

What would you do? How would you react if on that ship?

A friend of mine told me he would have immediately gone to his cabin, and done his best to disguise himself as a woman — remember, it was women and children first. Regardless of what we might have done — could have done — it would be the knowledge that with each passing hour, moving closer and closer to that ice berg, that messed with our heads. We know the fate of the world, but cannot divulge the information. Oh, how that knowledge would have made surely made some feel god-like.

Everyone else gleefully takes in the journey of all journeys, marveling at the magnitude of the ship; but we know that every bit of that grandeur will soon be under the very water the massive ocean liner was dominating so freely.

Time Just Does What Time Is Supposed To

The pandemic makes me think a lot about time. Once I got over the initial shock of this whole “world in lockdown” concept, I began to regard this moment as a great resource — an opportunity. I can tell you that I have squeezed all that I could out of every minute of this past year. The things I have learned (harmonica playing, Brazilian jujitsu), immensely improved (German, sour dough, home-made pasta, cooking overall), and the time spent with my family has been my successful lassoing of time. It passes, undoubtedly, but much more on my terms.

The COVID virus is a power few can predict: It takes whomever it wants whenever. Just like that ship, it likely won’t sink, but if it does it’s going to take a lot of people with it. I know so many people who have not appreciated this “free time;” but rather they have just just waited for it to pass — would we wait for those 4,969 minutes just to pass?

“Come on, come on. I am so bored, sink already.”

The frustrations, and the psychological turmoil, people are experiencing nowadays might stem from the fact that it has finally dawned on them how they let an entire year of life slip away. The fragility was highlighted in yellow and underlined twice — some made notes in the margin; others passed it binge-watching Netflix; mindlessly complaining about the pandemic; and, then arguing about stupid shit like politics and masks.

Imagine those poor souls who spent this time doing absolutely nothing, ignoring all of the warnings, only to get sick and die. It must be a horrific realization lying there, drowning in your own fluids, and thinking: why didn’t I do things just a little bit differently? Why didn’t I do more?

I am not mocking the deaths of anyone — even those who died from COVID still doubting it was indeed COVID. I am asking, why are all so arrogant to think that we have some kind of control over time? We humans willfully let this precious resource race onward, seldom trying to tap into its inherent value. It’s almost like we are trying to get one over on time — sure, you keep moving forward, pal, and I will pretend I don’t care, hah!

Time, though, just shrugs it shoulders and lets our little rebellion flit away — yet another example of wasted time.

Going back to the Titanic, how many of us would like to cavalierly suggest that our last days on earth would be spent drinking, gambling, making love, and doing whatever we wanted because we know the end can’t be altered? I have also thought of that version. Like in life, many times I have been distracted, every day even still, beckoned to take the easier path — the one that lets me satisfy the urges which leave me at the end empty, and even maybe sick.

Many people pass their lives ever distracted by things like, say, excess speed — that is what doomed the Titanic. Ismay wanted to show the world how mighty his liner was. That hubris doomed those 1,489 souls. Many of us live in the ethos of this excess, and, sadly lives are lost; the minutes are wasted. I must show everyone I am the best, the fastest, the smartest, my kid is going to Harvard, etc. If the men who manned the engine room on the Titanic had been as selfish as modern society has become, that ship wouldn’t have left port. How many of us, laser-focused on all of the measurements that decided success in contemporary life never really leave port?

No one has “all the time in the world,” but we have exactly the amount allotted to us — we have our 4,969 minutes — and what are we going to do with them?

Maybe we can start by being kinder? Perhaps, we can take steps that keeps life not only afloat but ever-traveling in a forward direction, benefitting more than just self?

Standing on that deck that night, made of pine and teak, many passengers might have been thinking, this ship is just too sturdy. Nothing is going to happen to it. And then something does, in what was surely the blink of eye, the ship was gone. The sturdiness had deceived. It had lured us into a false sense of “ah, why bother, all will be okay if I do nothing?”

No one knows exactly how much time is left. In a blink of an eye, though, it too will go. Perhaps, it is time to prepare for that iceberg?

A writer, a father and a student of history, the past holds the answers to today’s problems. “Be curious, not judgmental,” at least until you have all the facts

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