When I woke to the sun coming through my gorgeous B&B, I couldn’t stay in bed any longer. I dressed quickly, donned a Gibson Girl hairstyle for the occasion, and stepped into the morning sun. The dew still danced on the grass and the sunrise was golden over the silver water.
Crossing the small road, I walked onto a tall bridge that overlooked the water and there stood Queen Victoria, built by the same company that built the Lusitania, bathed in the light.
Since I was about thirteen years old, I have commemorated both the sinking of the Titanic and the sinking of the Lusitania. My mother even let me stay home from school once or twice on May 7, and it has always been my special day of writing. I spend time thinking about the passengers of the liner and what they may have experienced, writing about the sinking, studying about it, and every now and then, feeling it so deeply my heart shook. I never imagined that I would be in Ireland in 2015. I dreamed of it, sure, but the realist in me didn’t want the romantic in me to raise my hopes too much.
But there I was. Overlooking the same land where the survivors of the disaster touched solid ground again and where a few of the victims were buried in it. I listened to my Lusitania soundtrack–the same soundtrack I’ve listened to for thirteen years and sat on a bench, smelling the salty air and noticing the clear sky–the only clear sky of my nine days in Ireland. Through all my study and all my imagining, the disaster never seemed quite as tangible as it did then. Suddenly the characters in my stories, the real people, became real to me. I felt like Brock Lovett, when he said, “I never got it. I never let it in.”
That morning, I let it in, and to this day I feel changed. Changed because the disaster has so much to offer, so much to teach, so much for us to remember. Twelve hundred people died; 761 survived and were never the same again. All because of a war. And while who is at fault is not exactly clear–except for the man who shot the torpedo–what is clear is the painful damage that war brings. What good has ever come out of a war? The Lusitania disaster was one of the first modern examples of innocent civilians being murdered for the profit of war. Pearl Harbor was next, then Hiroshima, then Nagasaki, countless others.
Sitting on the shore 100 years later, I was overwhelmed by the tragedy of human nature, and the knowledge that even through all that, human kind continues to trudge forward. And I prayed that one day we could learn from our mistakes.