Saturday, November 23, 2013

Painting the Titanic

My great grandfather painted the Titanic. He wasn't the only one of course.The luxury liner was constructed in Belfast, Ireland and he was one of many Irish who spent years hammering, sawing, sanding and painting the boat to life. He ultimately died of a rare form of blood cancer, which my aunt, the family historian, said was probably due to the lead based paint he was exposed to for many years.We can't know for sure if that is what caused his death, but one thing we do know is that he spent years painting a boat that now sits at the bottom of the ocean.
Think about it.
All that painting was in vain--wasted time & energy. The countless hours of aching shoulders and cramped hands lifting a brush to those hard to reach places, ensuring just the right shade, making sure no spot was missed--all for not. He might as well have painted the Titanic bright neon green with orange polka dots or drawn little squiggly lines all over it. Heck, he could have tagged it up graffiti-style with big fat bubble letters. What did it matter? Sure, people would admire it from the harbor as it pulled away and those on  board would eat, sleep and party in it for awhile, but ultimately, that big, beautiful boat was going DOWN. Though he didn't know it at the time, he was basically painting a fish play toy--a giant, fancy metal coral reef. Today, the "unsinkable" Titanic sits at the bottom of the sea near Newfoundland--split in two, it's colors faded, covered in mud and surrounded by total darkness. No one can see the black, red, gold and white my grandfather painted on the stern, the bow, in the Captain's room and on the balconies.
What a shame.
Yesterday, my neighbor and I stood in my garage talking about death. Don't worry, it wasn't the first thing we talked about, but since our dear friend and neighbor is dying of cancer, our conversation eventually headed in that direction. She warned me that she likes to talk about it, not in a morbid way, but in a "circle of life" kind of way. I said I didn't mind. We talked about how this whole world is really meaningless if this is all there is. I mean, if all life is about is getting up every day and trying to make the best of it by acquiring as many toys as you can, isn't that a little bit like painting the Titanic?  Let's say you have all the "creature comforts" this life can give--you have money in the bank, two cars in the garage, a big house on the hill and a tennis club membership. Then you die tragically in Belize in a naked hang gliding accident or you die not so tragically - you die of old age. Whatever it is - YOU DIE. So who cares about all your goodies? As the old saying goes - you never see a U-haul truck behind a hearse.
So trying to make myself as happy as possible in this life is a little like painting the Titanic. My ship is going down. Why am I trying to fill it up with stuff and make it so pretty? If I live for something bigger, better, above all this - then even when I die, my handiwork lasts. This is why we are all driven to make a difference, leave a legacy. We want proof our life counted for something. It's a little bit like scrawling "I was here" on the world. The thought that "my music will live on forever" or "my name is on that building" or "I found the cure for x disease" - is what drives us to do something that will stand the test of time. We want to paint a ship that isn't going to sink.
But it is so easy to get caught up in decorating and furnishing the Titanic.It's so alluring! It seems so permanent! So enormously important! We invest our time, energy and money to make our ship as fun, comfortable and pleasurable as possible. We want smooth sailing! There's nothing wrong with comfort and happiness, but is that the focus of my life? What am I doing that is going to stand the test of time? Who am I living for? Am I talking to people about my faith and giving them hope, or am I just letting them paint the Titanic right alongside me? Am I acting like my ship is never going down? Is my ship the only one that matters? Am I dancing on my party yacht while others are bailing water out of their rowboats? Or am I helping? Serving? Praying? Loving? Sharing? Giving?
Not enough I am afraid.
I'm covered in little wet drips of red, black, white and gold. I have splatters on my jeans, stains on my fingers and flecks in my hair just like my great grandfather. I have made a pretty boat.
It's time to put down the brush.

-Hope Horner, 2013, from
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1 comment:

  1. I love this, it is so well written and so deeply relevant!!