When I was 16, a group of my high school friends and I went to see the movie, Titanic. Our hearts swelled and sank and rose again within our chests as we watched the saga unfold in St. Paul’s Highland Theater. Jack Dawson, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, was every teen’s heart throb in the late 1990’s when the movie was released. He is a 3rd-class drifter who makes his way from place to place on dreams and his talent for seeing people for exactly who they are and capturing their likeness in a big sketchbook that he carries around with him.
Rose DeWitt Bukater, played by Kate Winslett, is the high society maiden who’s faced with the decision to marry a rather crude businessman because although she is a finishing school graduate, her famous name doesn’t carry with it the wealth it once did, and her father died leaving her and her mother broke. An unrealistic love affair begins between Jack and Rose; and as their romantic experience aboard the largest ship in history captures the hearts of viewers and angers those whose concern for status consumes them, it becomes clear that the pangs of love are not hindered by class or circumstance. I wanted them to defy the odds and find their happiness together, making memories and their dreams come true.
In search of impressive news headlines, the vessel picks up speed–even against the better judgement of the ship’s captain. The Titanic sails full steam ahead and hits an iceberg. Each compartment of the massive ship fills with water, and the first-class female and child passengers are lowered into the ocean by life-boats. The famous ballad, “My Heart Will Go On“, builds toward the second half of the movie and my friends and I were sitting in the theater that night bracing ourselves for the inevitable: the ship is sinking and Jack and Rose won’t be living happily ever after.
One of the fallacies of arrogant leadership, in this particular case, is that denial is preferable to perceived imperfection. I can’t help but wonder what I would do if I was given a similar fate. Aboard a sinking ship and all those from the lower classes are locked out of any chance for survival because as news of the ship’s demise is realized, there is also the news that there aren’t enough life-boats for everyone on board and the rich go first.
As the tragic tale of the Titanic, and all the lives and dreams of those who didn’t make it off the ship before it sank ended, my heart was most touched by another couple who’s love story wasn’t captured by A-list Hollywood actors. As the men, remaining crew members and lower-class people are scrambling for a chance at safety, there is a brief scene with an elderly couple laying together in bed holding one another. With the water filling up in the room around their bed, they share one last kiss.
When faced with the inevitable, instead of jumping ship and fighting against the current of the cold Atlantic waters, many others in the movie are like this elderly couple and embrace their fate, spending their final moments doing the one thing they know how to do, the one thing they can do: remain.
When I get to the last scene of my life, I hope to spend my time in a similar way. Instead of fighting against the fate we see, hear, feel and know is coming, may we all realize that the life we have in us means more than the promise of death. We may not be able to control how the captain steers the ship and we may not be able to see the icebergs of life in enough time to avoid them. But even when we remain–if we don’t have the luxury of jumping ship–there is life still happening.