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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Captain and the Ship

by Tom Pappas

I am fixated on Francesco Schettino. If there ever was someone who needed a moment in time back, it is the captain (need I say former captain) of the cruise ship that ran aground off Italy.

What have you read? State of the art, brand new ship. “Fly by” the island of a crew member’s family as a favor. Left the ship before the passengers were safe.  Lied that all the passengers were off.  Lied that he was not even the captain. Refused to go back to supervise evacuation. Horrible, horrible, horrible!

No need to stand in judgment. I observe with a broken heart and ache for the victims and their families. For the passengers. For the crew. For the owner of the vessel who trusted Schettino with a huge piece of equipment.  For the danger to the pristine seacoast. For the industry. Here is a man who will never again use a vast skill; and neither will he be at peace with himself – ever.

I grieve the diminished optimism all of us have suffered this week. Any one of us is capable of a lapse of attention while driving. (The blind spot is always a menace!) I certainly am not immune to the bad decision – or the impulse to show off.  To provide something memorable.  It is easy to look over the arc of my years and see times that the slightest variation could have spelled disaster.

What does God do for a person in this predicament? When I did prison ministry any number of inmates said this sentence or a variation of it, “I know God forgives me for what I did, but I will never be able to forgive myself.” Wow, what a challenge to grace. But I can see their point.

I don’t know the answer to the question in the paragraph above. If you shoot me a Bible verse I would almost automatically find a way to minimize what you think it means. I need to struggle with this one for a while. How about you?


  1. You put my thoughts into words perfectly. Thank you, Mr. Pappas.

  2. What I keep thinking about is the contrast between the Captain of the flight landing on the Hudson (Sully Sullenberger) and Captain of this cruise ship. One was going to do all he could to keep everyone safe, staying on until the last person was off, the other bailed to save himself. Honestly, I wonder what I might do in that situation? I'd like to think I'd be brave and courageous, but it would take being placed in that situation to tell. You wouldn't have time to think much then, whatever was "in you" would come out of you in that moment.

    I think the chorus from "White Flag" by Dido kind of summarizes our best hope of what we would be in this situation.

    I will go down with this ship.
    I won't put my hands up and surrender.
    There will be no white flag upon my door.
    I'm in love, and always will be.

    That is we would be so dedicated for those under our care (whether its family, colleagues, passengers) that we would be will to "go down with the ship" if that's what it took to get them safely home.

  3. Been thinking of the contrast between this captain and Sully Sullenberger -- the captain of the Delta airlines flight that crash-landed on the Hudson.

    This captain appears to have been a coward, bailing out to save himself and leaving the passengers to fend for themselves. Sullenberger, on the other hand, is viewed as a hero, who was willing to "go down with the ship" if that's what it took to make sure everyone under his care got off safely.

    Each of these men probably did what "came naturally" to them in that moment of crisis. I'd like to think I'd be like Sullenberger in a similar situation, risking my life to save those entrusted to me, but honestly, I don't know. It would take being placed in the situation to really know "what I would do in that moment."

    There is not much time to think in those kinds of situations. Whatever is "in us" will be what comes out of us. Will we be the hero or the "coward"?

  4. Thanks, Peggy for your kind words. And Alan for your thoughtful responses. I used to imagine as a kid "coming to the rescue" in some emergency. I don't know about that now. I want to be that person but wonder if I have the presence of mind to be the hero of my fantasy. I am reluctant to fault others but always eager to applaud the rare Sully in our midst. That doesn't mean I don't expect God to be my support in the face of crisis. FYI I cut the following line from the blog that I thought a little flippant. The second truism I learned as a kid was "The captain always goes down with the ship." The first was that you didn't mess with Bill Upton.