The White Rockets
By DANNY MINTON
One of the most notable disasters of the 1900s exists in the sinking of the HMS Titanic in April of 1912. The sinking claimed the lives of over 1,500 men, women, and children, rich and poor. Over the years, more than seventy movies, films, and documentaries have been created. One researcher found that more than five hundred books and articles have been written, with other estimates topping seven hundred. The event finds itself at the center of fiction and non-fiction worldwide. Dozens of plans developed beginning in 1914 to either locate or raise the great passenger liner, including three expeditions from Jack Grimm of Abilene in the 1980s.
History shows there were not enough lifeboats for all the passengers, with many lowered at less than capacity. Unfortunately, there was another possibility that could have saved the lives of so many more. Less than twenty miles away, stopped for the night in a vast icefield sat the SS Californian. The wireless operator had retired for the night, leaving only the on-deck watchmen. Late in the evening of April 14th, they noticed the lights of a ship in the distance. Their first thoughts were that it had stopped for the evening like them. During the early morning hours of April 15th, they viewed white rockets from the ship. They reported to Captain Lord, who told them to continue to watch. At first, they thought there may have been a celebration of some kind, but when they saw them again became concerned.
Twice more, they reported to the captain without a response with any action. Several hours later, other rockets appeared. The captain then awoke the radio operator to check on the circumstances. It was only then that they heard of the sinking of the Titanic and made their way to the site only after all the survivors were rescued. The question asked for years to come would haunt so many lives. “If the Californian had acted that night, could they have been there in time to save the others?” They saw the distress signals and failed to act, ignoring the signs that something was wrong.
Much has been said lately in the news about disasters that could have been prevented if people had paid attention to the “red flags” thrown up. Recent mass shootings emphasize how we need to pay attention to the signs that others face pains and struggles. Newspapers and social media published the picture of the man accused of the Chicago parade shooting. The image was an unfavorable one of a tattooed-faced young man. As I read the social media comments, I realized that this young man must have faced bullying and possibly labeled an outcast in school. Inappropriate comments about his looks filled the comment pages. If adults spoke in this manner, how much more would the pain be for him in school among his peers during those years where he needed encouragement, not hate and ridicule. Like so many others, his pain was evident in the social media comments
How often do we see people “sinking” and not take the time to help them? I thought about the story of Jesus and Peter when Peter walked on water, coming to Jesus, who had walked on water past the apostle’s boat. I picture both men standing on the water when Peter suddenly realizes, “I can’t do this!” and begins to sink. Standing within arms-length, Jesus could have reprimanded or ignored him, doing nothing to help. What does he do first? Before saying anything, Jesus reached out “immediately” and caught Peter. The question of faith would only come after Jesus saved him from drowning.
I believe we often ask too many questions before reaching out to help those calling out for help. We question, “Why did you do what you did?” We reprimand, “You should have known better!” We ignore the tears, heartaches, and pain in people’s eyes, becoming blinded to their lives’ warning signs. I write about this often because I see so many hurting people. By not only being attentive but acting on the needs of others, we are fulfilling the 2nd greatest commandment; “Love your neighbor as yourself.” By doing this, we also fulfill the 1st commandment of fully loving the Lord our God.
Learn to see people like Jesus. When we learn to look through His eyes, we see the needs and hurts and not just the outward appearance. We look at a disabled man and see someone who can’t walk. Jesus sees someone who wants to walk. We read the words of anger that someone has for those around him. We see a malcontent. Jesus looks at the same person and sees someone who needs a friend to lean upon. We hear someone put down the church, denouncing God, and label them atheists or agnostics. Jesus hears them and immediately takes their hand, seeking their hearts. Someone walks into our worship service in shabby clothing, and we wonder why they didn’t dress better. Jesus sees the same person and says, “Come in. I’m glad you’re here!” People almost always view a person’s outward appearance first, whereas Jesus sees beyond the façade and aims to know the feelings. To be Jesus means to see people’s warning signs and needs and act on them.
People’s lives are affected by each person with whom we come in contact over our lifetime. Some of us are fortunate enough to have in our lives those who build us up and remain true during our darkest hours. Others may not be as fortunate as we have been. Their lives may have been full of abuse and neglect. Maybe they faced ridicule in school and have always been told they are worthless. They grow up without love and encouragement, facing each day as a challenge to get by in a world of hate and disappointment. They send up the “white rockets,” but no one is there to help.
Ignoring the signs culminated in the loss of hundreds of lives on the HMS Titanic. Yes, the SS Californian could have helped, but others also ignored things that could have saved lives. Ship owners were only required to have lifeboats for part of the passengers. Captain Smith had received numerous warnings of ice in the area, yet the ship kept up speed. Passengers initially ignored the warnings to abandon ship, leaving many to be launched with seats to spare. “White Rockets” of warning made themselves visible to many.
Pay attention to the world around you. Look around your family and church for those that may be hurting. Look for the signs before it’s too late to help. Matthew 25 records the well-known passage of Jesus condemning those who failed to feed him when he was hungry, thirsty, a needy stranger, naked, and in prison; they did not help Him. They question Him saying they didn’t see Him in these situations. Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Be on the alert and ready to help; we may be the only ones close enough to view the “white rockets” they send up.
Danny Minton is an Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ