A chill wind blew from the west across the flat plain of the Saint Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, Long Island, on a bright and sunny Tuesday after Easter, March 29, 2016. Two days earlier the Christian world had celebrated the resurrection of our Lord from the tomb. How appropriate that seemed now.
I stood at the burial spot of Captain Virgilio Rigobello and gazed at the stone that bore his name. He lay interred with his wife Marie, her sister Joan, and several other relatives. Standing at the grave with me were his niece and nephew, Ann and Thomas. I was their guest as they showed me the family grave and told me the family stories about their beloved “Uncle Alex.”
It had been 37 years since Captain Rigobello and I had first met aboard the freighter Rigel in Norfolk, Virginia. Much had happened in both our lives in this long interval. Our paths had crossed again in the 1980s aboard the tanker Waccamaw. Now, in a more sublime and supernal way, they were crossing once more. I felt his spirit as I read his name on the stone, and I sensed that he was pleased to see me again after all these years. And I was pleased to be there. Furthermore, I felt honored that his niece and nephew would take the time to meet with me and bring me into their family circle. We lingered at the grave despite the wind. Finally, we adjourned to a nearby Italian restaurant for lunch and continued conversation.
Ann’s and Tom’s affection for their Uncle Alex was heartwarming. They described him in much the same way that I had known him: intelligent, patient, modest, caring, forgiving, kind-hearted, and good-natured, and also as a devoted father and uncle who loved his family, loved children, and loved life. For their part, Ann and Tom welcomed me into their private world in much the same way that Captain Rigobello had welcomed me aboard the Rigel in 1979. They extended the highest level of congeniality and hospitality to me. In this way they proved themselves a credit to their Uncle Alex.
I listened to Ann’s and Tom’s family stories with great interest. They told me of good times and bad times, of their Uncle Alex’ extensive voyages at sea and his vacations at home, of his professional achievements and his personal joys and sorrows. As a licensed Merchant Marine officer he had enjoyed an illustrious career followed by a well-earned retirement. Then it ended as all lives do. He lost his beloved wife Marie to cancer in 1994. Following this, he took care of her infirm younger sister Joan. Then, after fourteen years of widowhood, he passed away himself in 2008. It pained me to hear of his final illness. If I had only known at the time, I most certainly would have gone to visit him.
Instead, I visited his grave. Bright colored Easter flowers, traditional symbols of faith, hope, and love, decorated the site. Bright sunshine illuminated the stone and the surrounding earth, the astronomical light of the world symbolizing the divine Light of the world that illuminates all life. The setting led me to think of the sea, a place to which my mind frequently wanders. I could easily see myself aboard ship once more with Captain Rigobello.
When I returned to work two days later, I could scarcely concentrate. I was physically present but mentally absent. My mind had once again wandered off to sea. I saw myself on the bridge wing of the Waccamaw on a transatlantic voyage. Sextant in hand, I studied the sky to the southeast, waiting patiently for Arcturus to appear in the gradually deepening twilight. Captain Rigobello came up to the bridge to check on things after dinner. He saw me taking the first sight in the evening round of stars and nodded approvingly. He glanced briefly at the radar and scanned the horizon. Satisfied that all was well, and again entrusting the safe navigation of this great ship to me, he turned and went below. I continued with my star sights, finishing as usual with Polaris.
Then darkness descended on the sea. Penetrating this now black world were myriad pinpoints of white light from the heavens, the guiding stars upon which navigators depend. Likewise, penetrating the darkness of the grave is the happy memory of a great man. While gone from us physically, he nonetheless continues to illuminate the minds of his family, friends, and colleagues. Lux perpetua caeli luceat eo. May the perpetual light of Heaven shine upon him.