Every Number has a Story


My name is William Lobb, from Scranton, Pennsylvania.  It was with a heavy heart that I had to make a trip to Cornwall, England.  My brother died and I wanted to be there to be with the rest of the family in this dark hour.  I work as an engineer for the Lackawanna Railroad.  Luckily for me and my wife, we were able to get passage on board the largest and most magnificent ocean liner ever built, the Titanic.  Although we were only able to afford 3rd class accommodations, I am still very excited to be heading home and to be part of this maiden voyage.  Cordelia, my lovely wife, and I are excited to return and resume our lives together.  I think it will be great to get home and get back to work.  Maybe we will start a family sometime soon, but I may need to get a raise or two to be able to afford it.  Who knows, maybe I can get a job elsewhere and make more money.  Rumor has it that up in New York, there are plans to build up the skyline to epic proportions and skilled engineers will be in demand.  Maybe I will name my son after my brother.  Life is good, and there is nothing but opportunity in the dawn of this age of discovery…

Everyone knows the story of the Titanic.  There is very little that can be added to the story or the reasons why it hit the iceberg and sank, taking over 1,500 lives with it.  The myth of this ship and the accident are quite legendary.  Claims of that it was unsinkable were made, and laughingly turned into some self-serving prophecy.  The sacrifice of some of the passengers would go down in legend, wives and husbands deciding to not take a place in a lifeboat, thus affording someone else a spot, or the band playing music as the ship was going down.  Movies have been made and books have been written.  The lure of this story is attractive and most likely will continue to be part of human lore and legend for as long as civilization endures.

The other day, I went to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences here in Raleigh, NC, where they are currently holding a Titanic exhibit.  It contains many high quality photos, artifacts, and back stories of some of the crew and passengers.  There is a piece of the hull on display that you can touch, which I did and caused me to have tingles down my spine.  I touched the actual Titanic!  I got the same feeling when I touched a moon rock at the Smithsonian, but I get all goofy on things such as this.  The best part, though, is when we entered the exhibit; each customer is provided a boarding pass.  It contains a name of one of the passengers, the type of ticket (1st, 2nd, 3rd, or crew), and some basic backstory of that individual.  I was Mr. William Arthur Lobb.  A thirty year old male with a 3rd class ticket.  This was not something I thought was a good prospect for survival, and eventually, as we exited the exhibit, I looked up my name on the ship manifest on the wall and sure enough I did not make it.  Neither did my wife, which is sad and tragic.

On the way home, I was filled with thoughts of wonder.  What was it like to be there in person?  How would I take the news of impending doom?  Would I panic?  Would I spend time with those I love?  Would I be a coward and force myself on a lifeboat?  Would I be brave?  This is only one tragedy in a history that has its fair share.  Some are caused by human selfishness or thirst for power, others are caused by natural phenomena, and some are caused by lack of knowledge and experience.  The Titanic can be classified as lack of knowledge and experience for sure.  Building a ship that was massive as the Titanic was never done previously, and while some designs were ingenious and forward thinking, it was inevitable that parts of the design may not have been adequate for this ship.  The ship went down, there were too many lives lost, and nothing will ever change this fact.  Expeditions to the site where is rests on the bottom of the Atlantic are routinely done by scientists and adventurers, sometime new knowledge is discovered as to why the ship took on as much water, or why some of the frame may have been too weak and caused it do go down faster than it should.

Regardless, what is important to remember in all tragic events such as these is simply that behind each number is a story.  In the Titanic example, over 1,500 people lost their lives.  Who were they?  What were their dreams?  What inspired them?  What did they fear?  Were they good husbands or wives?  In wars, or disasters, the news always reports that a specific amount of people were known to have died.  There is an emphasis on “known causalities” when the reports come in, and the focus is on this, not who they were.  In light of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, I was pleased to see how many stories came out that were not simply a number, but were details of a person.  I think we should all pause from time to time to not simply read a number, but to at least give thought to the individuals.  We, as individuals, are not simply numbers, but people with beliefs and desires.  We are people who may have families.  We are people who have dreams and sometimes can make a significant difference in the world.  A tragedy represents not simply a number of dead, but a loss of family, dreams, urges, and desires.  The loss of futures and family is a tragedy that is beyond words and cannot be quantified by a simple number.

Mr. Lobb, his wife, and many others died on that fateful voyage on that cold April night in 1912.  The loss of life was significant.  The loss of over 1,500 individuals was tragic.  The next time there is news about a tragic event with loss of life, we should all take a few minutes to think of the loss beyond the simple number.  We should take the time to honor their loss by reflecting on what we can do to carry on their dreams and experiences.  Math can be characterized by numbers.  Lives, on the other hand, should never be just a number.


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