1500 people died in the Titanic disaster. Every one of those people had a story; a history, grieving family and friends, and lost potential. There were tragic stories, and there were also incredible stories of survival, sometimes against incredible odds. This is part three in a series on lessons from the Titanic. The first lesson is the danger of hubris (arrogant assumptions). The second is the power of courage.
Once I started digging into survivor stories, I was struck by how many passengers on the Titanic were immigrants traveling to a new life in America. 10% of first class passengers and 80% of second and third class passengers were immigrants.
One story among many that inspired me was that of Hanna Youssef Razi who was migrating from Assyria. A year earlier her husband had travelled to Michigan to set up a new life for their family before sending money for them to travel on the Titanic to join him. She travelled with her two children. Their journey was long and arduous before they even boarded the Titanic. It began on camels to Beirut, then they sailed to Marseilles, and went on train to Cherbourg where they boarded the Titanic. They travelled as third class passengers. They were survivors of the disaster, and after being held in New York to pass through immigration procedures they finally reunited as a family in Michigan.
It really puts my paltry daily struggles into perspective. What courage and perseverance! What an inspiration.
Let the perseverance of the Razi family be an inspiration to you to keep going when times are tough. Remember the truth of the Zen saying, “Fall seven times. Get up eight” or as I prefer to think of it “try seven times and succeed on the eighth.” If it involves a few stumbles, so be it. Keep going. And let your perseverance be an inspiration to others.
The band played on. This is one of the catch phrases from the Titanic. It’s an enduring phrase that inspires endurance. Vedran Smailovic offered a beautiful example of this endurance.
Vedrain was a cellist in the Sarajevo Symphony. He survived the horror of the Sarajevo Siege that lasted from 1992 to 1996; the food and water shortages, the deadly bombings and sniper fire in the streets. Smailovic created his own version of the band playing on. He once played while sitting amidst the rubble of the historic National Library as a sign that he would not let despair win. He played for free at many funerals during the siege to honor the lost and grieving. One day in 1992, twenty-two people were killed by Serbian mortar fire while standing in line outside a bakery. For the next twenty-two days, one day for each victim, Smailovic brought his chair and cello to that same deserted street. With the danger of sniper fire and bomb shells, he played in full tuxedo to honor each person who had died. The band played on. Hope lived on.
His perseverance and courage became the inspiration for folk songs, classical compositions, a novel and a children’s book called Echoes from the Square.
As author Adrian Shuman said of the Titanic, and its true of Sarajevo as well, “music makes sense of the tragedy.” Music is both a way to honor those lost, keep their spirits alive, and also give hope to those of us picking up the pieces.
In the end, we may never know if the eight musicians who stayed aboard the Titanic to play music until the end did so because they believed there was hope of survival or whether they wanted to die, and help others to die, with peace. Either way, it was an inspiring act of bravery. George Carlin said, “Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music.” I would add that those who stay hopeful are considered naïve by those who can’t see the hope. Those who live with courage are considered foolhardy by those who prefer to play small. And those who believe that their actions help to create the shape of the future are considered dreamers by those who can’t see the vision.
So be it. There are worse things to be called than insane, naïve, and foolhardy in the cause of authentic service. All any of us can do is play by ear, improvise through life’s challenges and hope that the harmonies created by many kindred spirits playing with courage will drown out the sound of despair.
T S Eliot said,
You are the music while the music lasts.
Or as Emily Dickinson wrote,
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all.