Dearest EXPLORE Reader,
Back in 2012, in the frigid waters off the Italian coastline, the Costa Concordia cruise ship that was carrying almost 3500 people hit a reef, almost sunk, and thirty-two people were killed. The boat’s captain, Francesco Schettino, quickly became the culprit blamed for the tragedy.
The tragedy was on the news around the clock as it occurred, and the story captivated me because it was such a relatable situation that the Captain found himself, and in some ways, I pitied him. Many people were obviously furious at him, and the news media vilified him, but being so disconnected from the emotional elements of the tragedy, I just felt so sorry for him.
Frencesco was born 58 years ago in Castellammare di Stabia, one of the most beautiful seaside areas on earth. He and his brothers grew up working in the sea, and his family were seaman going back multiple generations. Young Francesco only wanted to do one thing, and that was to live and work with the sea.
And so he did. He was a star student, and a star worker. Quickly moving up the ranks in the boating industry, and after several stints as a First Officer, he was promoted to Captain of the brand new Costa Concordia in 2006. His lifelong dream had been realized. He was the Captain of a multi-million dollar vessel.
And he lived the life of a Captain quite proudly. He had a slightly rebellious spirit, and often commented about how he enjoyed the excitement of breaking a little protocol now and then. He dined with beautiful women, enjoyed the celebrity that the Captain is afforded, and was widely respect amongst other Captains.
On the evening of the incident, Schettino navigated the ship by sight only through the waters that hug the Italian coastline. He had done this many, many times and so he stood at the bridge and announced orders to his officers. He was driving the ship so close to the shoreline so that he could basically show off for a fellow Captain that was on the mainland. As he veered closer and closer, he then saw the waves splashing on top of the exposed reef directly in front of the ship. He tried evasive maneuvers, but the ship slammed into the reef, slashing a 50 foot gash into the belly. Schettino would later say, “I don’t know why it happened. I was a victim of my instincts.”
After the impact, the crew worked to calm passengers. They told them that it was just an electrical problem, as the lights had gone out briefly. In the background, however, the boat was quickly taking on water. And lots of it. In what would prove to be the first of many errors, Schettino went to the dining hall and calmly ate dinner with a friend. Meanwhile, the boat began to list even more and the crew and passengers were getting frantic. Passengers were getting so frantic that they began calling the Italian Coast Guard from the ship, and they jumped in their own boat to come investigate.
From there, details are sketchy. The boat continued to list, and the evacuation siren was eventually sounded. People jumped into the lifeboats, and the crew worked to lower them into the water. Unfortunately, one of the people that jumped into the lifeboat and were lowered into the water very early on was none other than Captain Francesco Schettino. We all know that the last person off a sinking ship is the Captain, and there were still thousands of people onboard. The Italian Coast Guard was able to phone Schettino and inquired as to the status of the boat. They assumed he was still on it. Once they learned he was in the lifeboat, they skewered him. They ordered him back aboard the ship multiple times, but Schettino created excuse after excuse as to why he couldn’t. The Coast Guard officer got more and more irritated with him, and finally told him that there were casualties aboard. Schettino could be heard on the audio recordings as he broke down and sobbed. The mighty Captain was reduced to a blubbering mess.
Schettino was subsequently arrested, vilified in the media, and was sentenced to 16 years in prison for manslaughter.
I was working in central Florida for a period of time, and I went into the local gas station for something or other. I was grabbing whatever I was going to buy, and this teenager walked in. It was late at night, and he walked in with sunglasses on. He was looking around the store quickly, and was acting incredibly nervous. His hands were stuffed deep into the pockets of his sweatshirt. He grabbed a Twinkie, and then stood in line behind two people that were checking out. He slowly pulled the hoodie on his sweatshirt over his head, and continued to dart his head around looking about the store. He didn’t see me, as I was in the extreme back of the store. My heart began to beat incredibly hard as I was certain he was about to rob the place. I was certain of it. I frantically looked around me, trying to find something to use as a weapon. I quickly formulated an entire plan about how I was going to sneak up on him and hit him with a wine bottle. My hands were sweating as I held the bottle by the neck and stayed low behind the aisles. I was shaking with fear. I could hear my heart in my ears as he walked up to the counter and………..bought his Twinkie and left. I remember looking down at the bottle, setting it back on the shelf, and having to steady myself against the merchandise for a moment.
I’ll never forget that event because I don’t know if I was ready to truly follow through with my plan. Did I have the bravery in me to really smash that guy over the head if he was pointing a gun? I’m not sure. But I also wonder how I would have felt if the teenager would have shot the friendly clerk and had escaped without knowing I was there. It was a moment I probably will carry with me forever, and I can only imagine that I would have given anything to follow through and to at least TRY to save the clerk.
And then I think about Captain Schettino. An honorable Captain for his entire life. Respected by his crew. Admired by his colleagues. And then in the face of a moment where his bravery was necessary, he faltered, and was left sobbing in a lifeboat in the middle of the night while his passengers were dying. And he was probably full of SHAME.
We all live our lives and tell ourselves that we have the bravery and courage to face most any foe. But do you? Do you truly have the courage to not only take on any obstacle, but do you think you have the pride to accept the SHAME if you fail? It’s a tough question, and one that I’ve wrestled with in my own life.
I think that there’s a difference sometimes in what courage is, and what pride is. Pride is sometimes characterized as a negative thing, but I think that it’s inherently necessary for one to have courage. Captain Schettino had PRIDE, but lacked courage. I had the courage in that gas station in Florida (maybe), but perhaps not the PRIDE necessary to feel confident that I could follow-through.
Life is a series of mundane events, punctuated at times by moments of intense drama. Some are wonderful, and some are terrible, but our lives can be defined by these moments and how we respond.
I hope to lay my head on my pillow at night and feel confident that I have done the best I could, and if not, I pray I have the pride in myself in adequate supply to feel as little shame as possible for the areas I might have failed. Failure isn’t always the conclusion…sometimes it can just be another rung on the ladder toward the ultimate goal.
And I also pray I have the courage to face another day – no matter what it may bring.
Welcome to March. May you face the month with optimism, and may you EXPLORE your heart and know that your life is on the path as you would choose it – and if not, the courage to strike out and find all that you desire.
Benjamin D. Schooley
Publisher’s note – this letter originally ran in May of 2012. I found it pretty interesting that I wrote this letter about facing our fears, and having bravery, and handling things with as much pride and conviction as possible, as 2 weeks after this article was printed, my only younger brother was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. The next 16 months of hell as he underwent treatment was, perhaps, the ultimate test. Not for me, but for him. And I’m glad to report that 12 hours before he passed, he took his only son to the movies, despite all of our arguments for why it was a bad idea. If ever there was bravery, if ever there was conviction, if ever there was strength that stretched for an eternity, my brother had it. May none of you ever have to face something similar, but if you do, I pray you approach and complete your journey in a way that leaves people talking about how you handled it, and how they will forever hold you high for your strength.