A tragedy happened the other day just a few miles off the shore of Rockaway. Sandy Hook Pilot Captain Timothy M. Murray died while climbing a ladder to board a cargo ship at the entrance to the Ambrose Channel. (Please see link) Those who have been on the beach at Rockaway may have noticed the lights of a number of ships about 10 miles out into the ocean, just to the left. They are always there. Cargo ships come from all over the world to the ports of New York City and New Jersey. They wait there, sometimes for days, until one of the small pilot ships approaches and one of the Sandy Hook Pilots boards and helps its Captain navigate into the harbor.
I went out to see the operation a couple of years ago and I met the Commanding Officer of the team of pilots, Captain Rick Schoenlank. He shared with me then how dangerous the job is, climbing up to these huge ships at all hours of the day and night all throughout the year during some very inclement weather. And here is something interesting: they work in a suit and tie. When I asked why they dress so formally while climbing up a ladder in the middle of the night to board a ship he said, “When these ships come to our country we are the first people they see. It’s all about first impressions.”
I often look out to those ships and then look on the Marine Traffic app and see where they come from. I think of the people on those ships. I wonder what their lives are like and how much they miss their families in their homelands. I wonder what it’s like for them to be away at sea for months at a time. My visit to those Sandy Hook pilots a few years ago has taught me what I think is an important perspective in life. There is a human story behind just about everything we see. Every service we enjoy in life happens because of the labor and sometimes the struggles of others. Behind every face we see – the hotdog vendor, the server in a restaurant, the men we see cutting lawns in the summer, the people who drive the trucks across our highways – there is a history, a deep life experience, similar to our struggles, but uniquely different at the same time.
And from this day on, when I look out to the lights of those ships of our Rockaway Shore, I will always think of Captain Timothy Murray. God bless him, and all of our brothers and sisters who have passed on from this life experience we still share together.