but there would be no leo and kate

Lady Louise Patten has a new book out. I know. You’re thinking “who?” and up until yesterday I would have thought the same thing. She is the granddaughter of Second Officer Charles Lightoller, a longshormen from the Titanic. Yep, the Titanic. And she is unearthing a nearly century-old secret about the sinking. It was, in fact, due to an error on the part of Quartermaster Robert Hitchins who turned the ship the wrong way. The collision was then intensified when Ismay said to keep going forward. Apparently if the Titanic had stopped, and waited, it would have been able to float until the nearest ship (only four hours away) arrived on the scene.

Out of respect for his employer White Star Line and his fellow men, Charles lied in inquiry after inquiry. He never spoke of the error and the story of the inevitable contact with the iceberg became fact. And if he hadn’t confided in his wife Sylvia (Louise’s grandmother), the secret would have died with him.

Lady Patten said: “The inquiry had to be a whitewash. The only person he told the full story to was his beloved wife Sylvia, my grandmother. As a teenager, I was enthralled by the Titanic. Granny revealed to me exactly what had happened on that night and we would discuss it endlessly. She died when I was sixteen and, though she never told me to keep the knowledge to myself, I didn’t tell anyone. My mother insisted that everything remained strictly inside the family: a hero’s reputation was at stake. Nearly forty years later, with Granny and my mother long dead, I was plotting my second novel and it struck me that I was the last person alive to know what really happened on the night Titanic sank.”

Don’t get me wrong, I wish that no one had died in a watery grave. I wish they all lived long and healthy lives with families and heads on pillows. But imagine the world without that incident. Would they have made bigger and bigger ships and pushed them to their limits time and time again? Would the huberis of those in charge grow completely unchecked and cause harm or would technology be vastly different and light-years ahead of where we are now?

What I have been coming back to is the idea of how a safe arrival of the Titanic would have impacted the cinematic artform. I can’t help it, it’s what I know. That movie was the first huge, giant, world-wide blockbuster. I would bet that anyone who hears those first few bars of James Horner’s Hymn to the Sea instantly imagines scenes from the movie. And don’t even get me started with that Celin Dion song, I think it produces tears on contact.

I feel such empathy for those who waited and waited for loved ones that never showed up, only to learn that they were lost in a dark, cloud-covered sea. But now I also imagine a man who hid a secret for decades, and his family who eventually carried that burden with/for him. And was everyone better off with the lie? The last survivor of the Titanic died last year so perhaps now it was time to tell the truth. Before it was probably better for everyone to believe that there was no other way it could have gone down, that it was fate or destiny. That the unsinkable ship was not meant to make it to America. That was an easier truth to absorb. I think it would be to hard to know that it was a foolish error by one human being. There is something so much less acceptible about that, something so much more painful.

After all we love a heart-aching story. We love star-crossed lovers, matched together for only a brief amount of time on screen but forever in our hearts. Something about that makes our lives better. I am sorry for the lives lost, the tears shed and the secrets buried. But every time I see the movie, or hear the music or remember Beth and I walking around the massive exhibit surrounded by full scale reproductions of parts of the ship, I am transported to a time and place in history that feels cold and watery. And I am forever changed by the Tiantic. Maybe in some small way that’s true for everyone.

The truth is often disappointing, harsher and less magical than what our minds might imagine. I think I kind of wish that Louise kept the secret. I know she wants to share it with the world and sell her book (nothing wrong with that) but I didn’t want to know that it was one man’s mistake, one wrong turn of a wheel. I suppose I wanted the mystic legend. An Irish built ship that sank. And lost loved ones and survivors. Celebration and tragedy- the stuff of every great story, the pattern of our lives. At the end of the day I can choose what to believe, and maybe Charles’ secret doesn’t have to change the historical legacy of Titanic. I hate to admit it but it will probably always be mostly Kate and Leo to me.

You kind of want to rent it now, don’t you?! Well, fast forward the part where they spit because it sucks the romance right out of it.

Have a great week,

Louise

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