There is a scene in the movie Titanic where a quintet continues playing as the chaos ensues all around them. As they conclude a haunting rendition of “Nearer, My God To Thee,” the violinist turns to his comrades and says, “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight.” It is a moving scene not only because it juxtaposes peace against fear and faith alongside uncertainty, but also because it is based on true story. Wallace Hartley, Georges Krins, Roger Bricoux, and Theodore Brailey were all real men who performed this heroic act in real life.
In the book “The Band That Played On: The Extraordinary Story of the 8 Musicians Who Went Down with the Titanic,” Biographer Steve Turner shares many fantastic details of this heroic act of beauty. One of the most outstanding is that Wallace (the leader of this quintet) had previously shared with a friend that if ever he were on a sinking ship he would choose to play “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past” or “Nearer, My God To Thee,” Thus, he knew the risk and had already resolved to hold peace and hope. Historians account that he was known for stating that music is a bigger weapon for stopping disorder than anything on Earth. I believe he was right.
In times of chaos and panic we do not have the choice of opting out; not choosing is also a choice. Stoicism, comic relief, faith, anger, mockery, are all choices. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if the ship is going down or not. We do not have the option of being separate from the whole. I’ll be honest, part of me wants to disengage and wash my hands of it, but I will not. I wish it were as uncomplicated as having the data and simply educating others, but it is not.
Fear that is based on unreal threats is no less real than fear that is warranted. Read that again. You might be like me; baffled by the behavior of those around you, trying to make sense of the lack of common sense. Or you might currently feel terror, hopelessness, and panic. We’re all somewhere on the spectrum. Wherever we land, we have a responsibility to one another.
Some of us want off ship and some of us are not so sure its going down. If you want off, please make your way safely to the life boats in an orderly fashion. Mind your step, don’t cut the line. If you are staying, let us play music.