In 2018, I was fortunate enough to cross a bucket list item off by attending the Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia. That pigskin contest was always one of my favorites, and my dad, was a U.S. Navy veteran of WWII. So my visit had double meaning: I loved the contest, and I wanted to be there in his memory, since he died the year before.
Well 2020, the year that never was (or should have been), changed many things — that classic game was one of them. The game was played at West Point before a crowd of only students. Although, I did share in America’s Game in a certain way. The game’s sponsor, USAA, a financial advisor company offering various products for military people and their families, ran a promotion in 2020 asking people who had attended the game in the past to send a photo of themselves there. From all the thousands of submissions, 1,000 people were selected to receive a commemorative 2020 Army-Navy ticket encased in resin on a marble base. I was one of the 1,000. It’s gorgeous.
Any way, as is customary, I digress. This year the game was to be held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., a stone’s throw from the Big Apple. It was played there to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In fact, you can see One World Trade Center, the replacement edifice of the Twin Towers, from the stadium.
Before learning it was going to be in N.Y. (N.J.), I had no plans to go. But, compared with Philly, it was a hop-skip-and-jump away. I couldn’t resist. So I went (Go Navy!).
But the story isn’t about the game. It’s about the trip. I boarded an Amtrak train in Providence bound for Newark, N.J., my home for the weekend.
No sooner did I approach the station in Providence did I see, what would turn out to be, scores and scores of homeless people, seeking warmth in the inner sanctuaries of the train stations. Immediately, my heart melted.
I so easily dismiss such people because I live in a world in which they are not a part. In all, between my travels to and from Newark, and the game and back, I was in three stations and rode six trains — all of which exposed me to the sadness and despair that goes on every day, whether I see it or not.
When we pulled into, or more accurately, beneath the streets of N.Y. at Penn Station, there were more such people seeking shelter from the cold and elements. It’s ironic. While we stopped in N.Y., the train’s dining car restocked, loading food and drink for the passengers to enjoy at will. Outside the cars, the hungry stayed hungry and the homeless stayed homeless.
There were homeless souls all over Newark’s Penn Station. Some had shopping carts that carried all their earthly belongings, which weren’t much. They didn’t bother anyone, and the security and police didn’t chase them out. The only trouble they caused was the discomfort of having to see them and feeling guilty for having so much and taking it all for granted.
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.
There’s a good chance they will never know that … unless. Unless I pray that they may know the little Baby and His parents, who shivered through the night in a stable with no earthly possessions of their own, exist for them. To me it seems ridiculous that prayers can help them, but I too often forget nothing is impossible with God.
Those people are still out there now — those who are still alive. And that wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg of people living in misery and hopelessness throughout this world.
This Christmas, I will bring all of them with me to holy Mass, to family gatherings, to exchanging gifts, and to feasts. They just don’t deserve to be forgotten or ignored. They’re my sisters and brothers, and I hurt for them.
Please Christ Child, keep them in Your heart this Christmas Day and always, and help me to remember them and find a way to help even just one of them. And thank You for bringing them to my attention.