I love the months of August and September, partly because around this area, that’s the best time for beach weather. And allow me to digress for a moment. (I think this sets a personal record for digressing in my column in it’s 21 years of existence, after just one sentence — and this is a digression within a digression!) The water temperatures are those of which the body gets over the initial shock within the first minute — but, alas, I cannot go in the water for a few more weeks; the result of two surgeries to remove pre-cancerous moles. So folks, wear that sunscreen!
Thanks for indulging in my veering off the initial path. I loves these months also because this is the beginning of college football season. But, fear not non sports fans, this isn’t a sports column, so hang in there.
I was a spectator at the last regular season college football game last year when I attended my second Army-Navy classic match up. It was held in East Rutherford, N.J. And as many of you may know from my column about it in December, I made a solo trip down to the N.Y.-N.J. area aboard Amtrak.
I found myself thinking about that trip often over the past several months. It wasn’t because it was a great game and a thrill to be there, although it certainly was both.
Whenever I travel via bus or train I always, with no exceptions, encounter homeless men and women in and around the terminals. And since the game was in December, I witnessed the dire circumstances of many, many brothers and sisters — on the trek there and back.
And I made a vow to myself to not forget the drawn, lifeless faces that touched and broke my heart. But there were two individuals who are always at the forefront of my recollections — they were a young man and woman, or boy and girl would be more accurate.
I wrote about them, and others in a column called “Christmas scenes off the beaten path,” for the Christmas Eve Anchor in 2021.
I wrote, “There were Christmas decorations everywhere and carols blaring from loudspeakers. All of this went unnoticed by the poor souls without homes. I would look into their eyes and there was barely a spark of life in them.
“I remember, and frankly cannot forget, seeing a young boy and girl, in their mid-teens, dressed in tattered clothes and huddled together in an outdoor waiting area at one station. I couldn’t imagine what circumstances led them there. Was it family problems or lack of a family? Was it drugs? Was it mental issues? It was gut-wrenching to see them knowing my day would continue comfortably, as it does every day, and theirs would be one long existence of misery and pain.
“It’s the dichotomy of the Christmas scenes and the scenes of hopelessness that stays with me now. And sometime between then and now I realized that the Christ Child and Holy Family were not too far removed from their environment on the first Christmas. In fact, I believed I saw what I saw to help me realize that the Child came for people such as these.”
Since then, I have kept those two children in my prayers and brought them to God’s altar during the Prayer of the Faithful each week.
In a way, the two haunt me, like ghosts of Christmas past. I wonder what has become of them. I wonder if they are even alive anymore. I hope that something happened that changed their lives and set them on the right path.
What haunts me is that I will never know —in this lifetime at least.
I know that God is love, and Jesus is the manifestation of that love made human, but there is a quote from Christ that I never liked. It was when in Matthew 26:6 a woman pours expensive perfumed oil on Jesus’ head and others said it was a waste and the oil could have been sold and given to the poor. Jesus replied, “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.” I wish He was wrong, but He isn’t. And it’s up to us to do our part for them.
I’ll continue to pray for the poor, help them financially when I’m able, and bring them to God’s altar each Mass. But this football season, I know I’ll be thinking of the boy and girl at the train station in Newark, N.J. and sending an extra prayer for them
I know that as long as I can keep a cognitive thought in my head, I will be rooting for that young girl and boy who spent last Christmas off the beaten path. Praying that the two modern-day ghosts of Christmas past encounter enough reformed Ebenezer Scrooges to make a difference in their lives — and the lives of countless other drawn, tired and lifeless faces across the world.