His Tender Mercies  | JIM FURLONG

It was a terrible and tragic end to the search for the crew of the missing submersible.

The Titan imploded on an ill-fated voyage to the Titanic. Search vessels combed the Atlantic at the Titanic wreck site looking for answers to questions we now know may never be answered. They are questions as to exactly what happened and why.  Somewhere in that drama was a terrible familiarity. We are a people of the sea and that deadly story of a vessel and crew missing, a search, false hope, broken wreckage, fatalities, and assigning blame has played out so often in the cruel and unforgiving Atlantic. It is a story that always seems part of us here. It is a story that in its many and varied forms is the background to life in our Newfoundland and Labrador.

I could name a host of vessels lost with all hands, as the expression goes, and that list would be long and would be filled with tears. It has been part of our history. Ocean Ranger, Southern Cross, Blue Wave, just to name a few. It is a tragic litany. On it goes. That the bodies of the men aboard the submersible Titan won’t be recovered also is a too familiar part of that tale. That is an horrific aspect of that oft-told story. “The ocean has a habit of swallowing its victims forever.”

An interesting note to that part of the tragedy is a footnote to the tale. There is no finality or last chapter. There is no closure. Families in similar situations where bodies are not recovered report the phenomenon of a familiar sound or smell bringing back the awful reality of what has fractured their lives. It might be the aroma of brand of pipe tobacco  or the sound of the closing if a screen door on a summer day. There is no physical body on which to focus grief.  Healing in situations like this is doubly difficult, perhaps impossible. 

In news stories like this there is a frenzy of activity at first. Resources were mobilized. Networks from around the world sent journalists here. The familiar images of our St. John’s harbour and waterfront appeared throughout Canada, the United States and across Europe. The story of the loss of the Titan and its crew was headline news though for only a few days. Like all stories it has a front-page shelf life. As we went into the second week international reporters were headed to other assignments.

There will be lessons learned. There will be lawsuits. There is a general agreement that this need not have happened. The forces at work in a great irony were not unlike the forces that sucked the liner Titanic to the bottom of the ocean more than a century earlier. The only consolation, and it is but tiny, is that in a way it could have been worse. Death for five men on board the Titan was instantaneous. There had been the spectre of five men trapped below the surface in a tomb from which there could be no rescue. They were at least spared that, and we were spared imagined images and the questions that emerged.  

From the Book of Psalms 145: “The Lord is sweet to all: and his tender mercies are over all His works.”