/The right to rest in peace

The right to rest in peace

From Shaman’s Rock
By Jim Poling Sr.

While ships searched for the submersible lost while visiting the Titanic gravesite, I visited another gravesite.

I was back in northwestern Ontario, where I was born and raised. On the rare occasions that I get back there I always visit the cemetery where my family members are buried.

Visiting gravesites is important. Showing respect for those who have gone before us is one way that we remain civilized.

Being at the cemetery always is awkward. You want to walk among the headstones of your relatives and friends, while trying not to step on anyone’s grave. Common etiquette tells you to step cautiously, quietly and respectfully. 

Gravesite visits are personal, private affairs. They are not tourist events.

The visit of the 22-foot submersible named Titan was just that – a tourist event. It was an operation taking wealthy “explorer-research” tourists deep to the Atlantic Ocean floor and to google, through one 21-inch window, the remains of the British passenger ship Titanic.

The Titanic struck an iceberg 400 miles off Newfoundland in 1912 and sank, taking more than 1,500 people to a watery grave.

In 2021 U.S.-based OceanGate Expeditions began offering trips in a cramped submersible to view the Titanic wreckage on the ocean floor roughly 2.5 miles below the ocean surface. OceanGate set the tourist ticket price at $250,000 USD per person.

The company promoted the deep dives to the Titanic as a “chance to step outside of everyday life and discover something truly extraordinary.”

Stockton Rush, the OceanGate chief executive who died with four others when the submersible imploded enroute to the Titanic site last week, had said the value of the Titanic visits is in collecting images, data and expanding knowledge of the ocean.

He told an interviewer last year that there is much to learn from the Titanic – how fast shipwrecks decay and how bacteria eats metal and so on. With all due respect for Mr. Rush’s life and work, I vigorously disagree.

There are thousands of other sunken ships on many ocean floors. Some went down without taking people with them and are not gravesites. The Titanic is a gravesite. It’s an iconic one and there are rich people who will pay huge money just to say they went down to see it.

The research argument is a fallacious one. There is nothing to be learned from Titanic and its watery environment that can’t be learned elsewhere. 

There’s not much else to learn about the Titanic itself. We know it was on its maiden voyage from England to America. We know it was considered unsinkable but it hit an iceberg at full speed and sank. We know that the Titanic radio room received a warning of an ice field ahead but ignored it because a radio operator considered the warning non-urgent and did not pass it on to the captain.

We also know the Titanic had only 20 lifeboats, enough to carry 1,100 people, despite the fact that ship carried 2,200 passengers. It was later revealed that a government inspector recommended it should have 50 per cent more lifeboats but feared for his job if he did not allow the ship to sail.

We already know the main lesson from the Titanic: we humans are incredibly brilliant and incredibly stupid. Our brilliance built a magnificent ship named Titanic. Our stupidity sank it and left 1,500 people in a 2.5-mile deep grave.

The Titanic sinking is an important piece of history that has inspired books, movies and mountains of theories. But the world has nothing to gain by allowing it to be a tourist attraction for the super-rich.

Bob Dylan, the singer-songwriter, has a thought about gravesites in his memoir Chronicles

“The first thing you notice about New Orleans are the burying grounds – the cemeteries – and they’re a cold proposition, one of the best things there are here. Going by, you try to be as quiet as possible, better to let them sleep.”

That’s how our society should think about the Titanic gravesite. Pass by quietly and respectfully and allow the people who died there to rest in peace.