Paracelsus is spending time this week thinking about his parent’s fiftieth anniversary. He’s pulled out his family tree charts and is puzzling over the generations that came before. Coincidentally, the movie The Titanic has just been released in video (Wait! Stop! Please don’t rush away to rent it just yet — I should never have mentioned it this early in the column).
What’s the coincidence?
The Titanic was 882.5 feet long. It sank in the middle of the North Atlantic. There is a great temptation to think that the icy dark water that closed over it is, effectively, infinitely deep. It just went down down down into another realm entirely, a separate reality, a different world. But in fact, it’s sitting on the ocean bottom some 12,500 feet below the waves. That’s only 14.2 lengths of the Titanic deep. Because of the Titanic’s titanic size, it didn’t really fall that far relative to its length. The equivalent depth for a human six feet tall would be 85 feet deep. Deep, but not crazy go to heck and back deep.
When I first saw this depicted graphically, I was immediately struck by the image of a person’s life stretched back across time; the water isn’t really as deep as it seems. Lincoln pronounced the words “four score and seven years” in Gettysburg only 1.93 seventy-year lifetimes ago. And four score and seven years before that, the Revolutionary War, is only 3.17 seventy-year spans underwater. Deep, but not crazy go to heck and back deep.
This is strangely comforting to me. I can picture the sloping deck of the Titanic, not in a storybook dimension beyond imagination, but gently resting on a solid muddy landscape. And I can picture my great great grandfather Jay Whittington Lewis marching along muddy North Carolina roads to join the Confederate army. He’s still there, just as my parents are still kissing each other with wedding cake in hand. The past is more present than it seems. And that’s pure gold.
The persistence of the past figures into this week’s contribution: we are fortunate to be joined once again by St. Frank (see his wild tale of debauchery under the Christmas tree in the Naked Felix, in case you missed it the first time around). This time he takes us to a small room far far away (unless, of course, you’re reading this in Germany).