Peace be with all

Published 12:48 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2023

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As I write this column, the desperate search continues for the five men (one, a teenage son) aboard the Oceangate Titan submarine somewhere near the wreck of the Titanic. Newspapers are full of biographies of each as there are billionaires among them and people of note, but when it comes down to it, there are simply five human beings in a terrifying situation.

I cannot even begin to understand what these explorers are experiencing since the last ‘ping’ was detected. Oxygen supplies are dwindling and diving experts are painting a grim picture for the chances of survival. I pray for their rescue and I pray for peace. The latter, in particular, after reading the harrowing account of former journalist Michael Guillen, who nearly lost his life in 2000 when he became the first television news journalist to visit the wreckage two and a half miles beneath the ocean surface.

As Guillen tells it, the submarine in which he was riding became wedged against Titanic’s enormous propellors when a sudden, strong underwater current carried the helpless crew towards certain tragedy. For a heart-stopping half hour, the crew moved the ‘Mir 1’ back and forth repeatedly in an attempt to rock the sub out of the propellors. When nothing seemed to be working, Guillen, in an interview, stated that he feared the worst, but then he suddenly felt as if an ‘invisible presence’ had entered the submarine, and ‘shortly afterward, everything went quiet’ as the engine ‘stopped roaring,’ and he could feel as though they were floating again. He went on to write, “I experienced God’s presence and peace right when I was resigned to kissing my life goodbye.”

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My own faith leads me to believe that peace isn’t only given to those who manage to survive. The accounts given by survivors of the Titanic’s tragedy tell us that as the great ship went down, members of the ship’s band continued to play in order to keep passengers calm to, quite literally, their dying breath. Men who chose to give up their life jackets or places on lifeboats remained behind to meet their death with extraordinary courage and dignity. Their remains are still within that ship.

Which brings me to this: I am the proud granddaughter of Captain Herbert Elford who, despite every effort, went down with his ship and 600 other passengers (troops, nurses and children) after the SS Ceramic was repeatedly torpedoed by a German U-boat at midnight, Dec 7th, 1942 (yes, the date is indeed familiar to many). My grandfather and his crew assisted every passenger into lifeboats that inky night off the Azores. He couldn’t have foreseen the hurricane that was moving in and would capsize each of those boats, sweeping away the lives of every single passenger except for one—Sapper Eric Munday, who was thrown a life preserver by the U-boat and hauled aboard. As the U-boat then submerged, it took with it those passengers still struggling to survive that clung to its railings.

SS Ceramic, ironically, was the first ship built by the White Star Line after Titanic.

I tell you this story because while I don’t know exactly where the Ceramic lies on the ocean floor, I do consider its location to be sacred ground. Obviously, my grandfather died well before I was born but I know first-hand from my mother that he was a gentleman, a devout Christian, as well as a loving father and husband. The mere thought of curious explorers or deep water tourists that might feel compelled to dive around the Ceramic’s wreckage, as well as the remains of my grandfather and 600 other passengers, is far from a welcome one. I would consider it an outrageous intrusion against decency.

With all my heart, I pray for the rescue and safe recovery of these five men inside the Titan.

And I also hope that for the sake of all those who perished with Titanic, they will be finally left in the peace they deserve.