Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Today is my birthday. It is also tax day. It is also the day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. And now, it is also one of many days forever marked by the strangest period in our lifetime. Yet, like never before it turns into an unbelievable opportunity for reflection and remembrance.
I have always been a strange person. A visual memory of this truth comes from my childhood. I remember (on more than one occasion) conversations coming to the unenviable statement of, “You are weird.” to which I would always reply, “What is normal?” Needless to say, a remarkable moment would linger at the unremarkable lunch table of our collective memories.
The reason I share this is simple. I want to prepare you for another truth. I have always -- always found the slightly macabre points of April the 15th fascinating. I think it is important again to note that I was early on in life marked as peculiar.
That peculiarity I think has pulled me to a desire for knowledge of interesting things. To be frank, the odd and macabre things of history are far more interesting than all the litany of days that came and went with normality. No one remembers normal. People remember stranger things.
Having said this, today marks the 108th anniversary of another day in history. It was on this day in 1912 that the Titanic steamship slipped beneath the waves of the frigid Atlantic. The Goliath of industry and technology fell slowly. With a groan for the world She fell to the depths of the oceans, disappearing with over 1,000 souls.
I have always been fascinated with the Titanic. It is indeed an interesting slice of history. Present in one ship were people from all classes, cased in the finest of technology, slipping effortlessly through the black night sea of a lingering era. In many ways it was the iPhone of the early 20th century. A thing, accessible at whatever payment plan you could afford, with the promise of a better life (or the maintaining of one) on the other end. Yet, in an instant the reality of the human condition came crashing down, one life at a time.
One of those lives was a young man by the name of Wallace Hartley. Wallace was the bandleader and violinist on the Titanic. Oftentimes this is a story that is missed. It was Wallace that one survivor said inspired many. We read:
"Many brave things were done that night, but none were more brave than those done by men playing minute after minute as the ship settled quietly lower and lower in the sea. The music they played served alike as their own immortal requiem and their right to be recalled on the scrolls of undying fame."
And what was this music that was played by such brave men as these. That while death became more and more imminent, they did not run, they did not hide, they did not get drunk… did not lose hope. Instead, they stood their post and played as the screams and the terror rose around them.
It is said that as the ship sank lower and lower, it could be heard wafting over the deck Nearer My God To Thee. Wallace played out the accompaniment to the hymn which reads:
Though, like a wanderer, The sun gone down, Darkness comes over me, My rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I’d be Nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer to Thee.
In a moment in which panic had set in, with a stiff upper lip and frigid hands they played on. They turned what would have become yet another moment in history, into something that people still hear today.
I am reminded of the words of Jesus. It was in Bethany that a woman came and anointed Jesus with oil. His disciples were perplexed by this and asked why she would waste such a valuable ointment. Jesus proclaimed to them:
“Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
It was the act of sacrifice that left the moment embedded in time. An act made known by one simple desire… To be nearer to Jesus.
Just as we still discuss the woman in Bethany, today we discuss Wallace Hartley. A young man who in the last moments of calling for courage he stood with his friends and did what mattered. Wallace played many “nearer” to their God. And in his few fleeting breaths remaining he perfumed the glacial air with warm truth.
Many of us have started throwing around the word “New Normal.” Many of us have no idea what that will look like. Yet, on this April the 15th (my birthday) I hope that whatever, the new normal is, we would be people that stand firm, string our instruments, and play amidst the chaos. That we would be people who call people “nearer” to their God, no matter the cost to us personally. Go down with the ship no matter what. Be weird.