By: Kendall Wingrove
A century after the sinking of the Titanic, crowds still line up at museums around the world to see artifacts associated with the event that cost 1,500 lives. Recent news coverage surrounding the 100th anniversary of the 1912 tragedy demonstrates that it remains a powerful and revealing tale about almost every aspect of the human condition.
The scene was captured decades earlier by Charles Dickens in his memorablequote from A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age foolishness….it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”
The Titanic was constructed in the best of times. Economic prosperity and technological advances were sweeping the globe and the mighty ship was a dazzling showcase to display those impressive gains. It also was the worst of times, an age of foolishness. Mankind basked in the glory of great inventions but forgot that even 20th century innovation had its limitations.
The spring of hope had blossomed into a season of hubris and there was talk that the Titanic was “unsinkable.” This lethal combination of arrogance and ignorance set the stage for disaster. The winter of despair from the Titanic’s demise reminds us how vulnerable humans are despite incredible scientific progress.
Studying the accounts of the Titanic’s final hours, it is heart wrenching to grasp the self-delusion of passengers as the ship sank. While there were not enough lifeboats for everyone on board, hundreds perished because many lifeboats were not filled to capacity. Some were half empty.
Instead of taking an uncharted path that would guide them to safety, many people retreated into a familiar yet doomed cocoon. Although it was destined for destruction, people preferred the warm interior of the ship and that sealed their fate.
Those passengers had everything, yet nothing before them. With just three hours to live, the curtain on their life was closing and the veil of eternity was about to be lifted. For John Jacob Astor and other millionaires aboard, their vast wealth was now useless. They had enjoyed an existence of almost unimaginable luxury while savoring the excesses of the Gilded Age. But all their money couldn’t purchase a ticket into a lifeboat. It truly was a tale of two cultures that had been equalized for a great climax. Now many princes of industry and common laborers suddenly found themselves trapped in the same place with no chance of survival.
In those dark hours, some brave souls cared for their fellow passengers. A young pastor named John Harper realized that he and many of the others onboard would never reach New York but he kept focused on their final destination.
After kissing his beloved six-year-old daughter Nana and putting her into a lifeboat, the widowed preacher made his way up the deck urging women and children to follow his child’s example.Not long after, the ship broke in half and Harper plunged into the icy Atlantic.
Soon he was swimming frantically to people in the water and leading them to Jesus. The reverend approached one young man who had climbed up on a piece of debris. Harper asked him, “Are you saved?” The young man replied that he was not.
Harper took off his life jacket and gave it to the man and swam away to help others. A few minutes later Harper returned and succeeded in leading him to salvation. Of more than 1,500 struggling in the water that night just a handful were rescued by the lifeboats. One of them was the young man on the debris.
Years later, at a survivor’s meeting, that same young man recounted Harper’s actions. As Harper grew weak in the intense cold, his last words before going under were “Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
While others sought the temporary shelter of the ship, Harper went to those in need. Like a bridge over troubled water, Harper gave direction and solace in a sea of confusion. He gave up his life so that others could be saved.
In those final, horrifying hours, Harper faced his death with courage and purpose. During the worst of times, he was at his best. In a winter of despair, Harper offered a spring of hope. Harper had nothing before him on Earth but everything before him in eternity.
It says in Isaiah 43:2 that “when you pass through the waters I will be with you.” This promise illuminated John Harper’s way on that night to remember ashe and so many others navigated the journey from this world to the next.
Kendall Wingrove is a free-lance writer from East Lansing, Michigan.