The Word of God

The Memory Field

male walking on pathway towards sunlight in a wheat field

From time to time, in those fleeting moments that seem to disappear as quickly as they arrive, life does everything to grab your attention and make you stop, if only for a minute, to realize the kind of world we pass by with numbing regularity.

Take for instance that slice of reality that unveiled itself to me early in a dense-fogged morning even before the sun rose to burn off the vestiges of night and get our engines revving. I stopped for about twenty minutes to enjoy a cup of brewed energy and a couple of soft scrambled eggs, find a nice quiet little place where the only noise was the yawns of the waitresses and the bell that sounded whenever the front door was opened. It was peaceful yet tense as my mind began to race as to the demands of what looked like a very busy day ahead. “I’m ready,” I thought, as I paid, left a friendly tip, and made my way to the car.

Once I passed the dimly lit parking lot, I had to turn onto to a road that saddled a large field where once stood one of the city’s oldest and endearing nursing homes. Back in the day, at least when I was in school, everyone knew someone who had a grandparent, uncle or aunt, or even one of the Carmelite Sisters who used to operate the facility. It had been summarily torn down after a failed attempt to raise the funds to upgrade the home of more than 100 residents and what was once an architectural and historical landmark was just empty space with a sign that maybe, just maybe, there was going to be a quickly accessible gas station and mini mart.

Before I could turn on to the major street to make my way to the office, something unusual caught my eye. In the middle of this somewhat wide-open abandoned field, I could see what appeared to be the vague shape of a human being sitting on a lawn chair surrounded with small boxes, or that was at least what my quasi-active imagination was conjuring. Being involved with homeless people as I am, I thought it would be safe enough to park at a distance and approach what might be a future client for one of our shelters. Sure enough, I was almost right: it was a man, attired in layers of old and ragged clothes, sitting, not on a lawn chair, but several plastic water cartons with several discarded fast-food containers, which I presumed were half eaten leftovers that he either found or was given by folks who felt sorry and were caught up in the moment.

From a slight distance and measurable distance, I called out to him and spoke my name gently asking if he needed any help. “I’m so sad,” he said. My tender response was a most sincere, “I’m so sorry, is there anything I can do for you?” After a few seconds of both of us realizing that we represented little or no threat to each other, he began to explain what was happening. Even though his moving narrative took only about two minutes, I felt as if time had stopped and the glowing lights of dawn that I could see in the distance formed the most amazing and dramatic backdrop to the scene in real time, as they say.

The mercifully abridged version of this one-act human play was simple. He had been a long-time resident of the nursing home which once stood there. His wife and their only adult son had died and the only family and circle of friends he had for the past eleven years were his fellow residents including a few priests who were convalescing there. When the decision to close the facility was made, so were many, many promises offered as to the humane replacement of those who called that place their home. As fate or life or Karma or whatever is the more popular cosmic rationale employed these days, he literally fell between the cracks. Let me explain. At the nursing facility he was transferred to, he fell over a rather large opening in the front sidewalk and was taken first to the hospital then to a rehabilitation facility. In the meantime, that facility was sold, reorganized, and apparently his files were lost or misplaced. When he returned, there was a grave misunderstanding, words exchanged that should never have been spoken, and a very angry, dejected man finding his way back to his old home, now just an empty field with only the sounds of crickets and passing cars for a lullaby.

He returned to the only place where he could share his memories, and even though there was nothing there anymore, he still remembered and still cried, and still hoped. I rushed to my office to call some colleagues in other agencies to see what we could do, but when we returned later that afternoon, he was gone and thankfully, the water cartons and fast-food remnants were still there to provide proof of my encounter to my fellow case managers.

I have driven by that field of memory quite often these days wondering what ever happened to that gentleman and if he was safe somewhere. Of course, I pray for him even today as I share with you this memory. 

Where are your memories kept and shared? Do you cherish those with whom you tell and retell the most amazing facets of your life?  Are you happy to be alive? 

I know I am.

“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean, tears from the depths of some divine despair rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes, in looking on the happy autumn fields, and thinking of the days that are no more.” ~Alfred Lord Tennyson

Share your thoughts (18 thoughts)

18 thoughts on “The Memory Field”

  • Sandy Salinas says:

    What a beautiful story of this experience embedded in your mind and heart! I have no doubt that the memory of you and your kind and loving heart is also embedded in the mind and heart of that homeless man you were led to help.

    We each carry beautiful memories of particular moments in our lives; however, how many memories have we created for others simply because we allowed Christ to work through us?

    May we always be open to creating beautiful memories for those in need, simply because we’ve said yes to God.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful story with us! The memory of this life experience is a true testament to your kind and loving spirit. God bless you always!

    • Caro says:

      Thank you so very much, Sandy, for the time and energy you offered to present your thoughts and impressions over our post, “The Memory Field.” I believe I pass that field every morning driving to work and still think about what happens to all our cherishes memories and hopes and dreams throughout the years. I believe they are kept safe in the Heart of Christ and whenever we want to revisit them or pray for the souls that have graced our lives with their kind visits, long or short, they will still be there.

  • Patty Lichtenberger says:

    What a beautiful story! I find myself telling all my stories and memories when I’m at the beach. I need to go back more often with my girls. Thank you for this reminder.

  • Tony Montez says:

    I have shared many stories of my life with my children over the years. This past Sunday I took my granddaughter to the “duck pond” as she calls it. She ran into a fellow kindergartner at the playground. After awhile of playing chase, climbing, and sliding, they wanted to go to the side of the pond where the geese hung out. On the walk over my granddaughter asked me to tell her classmate my story of the old lady and the set of teeth. It’s a bazaar little story that happened when I was a freshman, living in an old farmhouse in the country. I was so happy to hear my granddaughter ask for that story to be shared.

    • Caro says:

      What an amazing and wonderful legacy to be able to tell the next generations stories that reveal mysteries and wisdom and hope for the future! I hope you will share your story of the old lady and the set of teeth with me soon and perhaps and can retell it to our readers! God bless you always! Keep telling those stories! That’s exactly how Jesus taught.

      “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

      ― Erin Morgenstern

  • Veronica L Altamirano says:

    Oh what a wonderful story it is! This definitely brought on the tears because I loved visiting Fr. Joe Lawless there. I have fond memories of him and our visits. It was truly a beautiful landmark and I never thought it would be destroyed. I pray that someone helped this gentleman find a new home because no one should ever feel forgotten or abandoned like that. May we all be placed in a situation where we get the opportunity to show the face of Jesus and that we do it with the love that only He shares with all of us! God bless you always!

    • Caro says:

      I am so happy that you enjoyed and appreciated our latest post, Veronica. One of our other readers had a similar take on the experience and offered this: In my heart, I truly feel that this homeless man that you met was Jesus. We always cross paths with Him but sometimes we’re just so busy that we don’t see Him. Let us all see Jesus in everyone. The best time is when it’s quiet and peaceful. He is among us!

      I believe we all are on to something wonderful here in this life. Let us be open to the great opportunities that await us!

      “Vulnerability is the only authentic state. Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure. Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty. Don’t mask or deny your vulnerability: it is your greatest asset. Be vulnerable: quake and shake in your boots with it. the new goodness that is coming to you, in the form of people, situations, and things can only come to you when you are vulnerable, i.e. open.”
      ― Stephen Russell

  • B. Garcia says:

    Thank you for sharing this story and calling us to dive into our minds and dig through where we keep our memories. I think often times we get so caught up in every day life that you’re absolutely right, we become numb to our surroundings. Often times we tell ourselves we are “too busy” to stop and lend a helping hand to our brothers and sisters in need. “If you are ever in position to lend a helping hand, do so. It is likely God is using you to answer their prayers.”

    • Caro says:

      Thank you so very much, Benjamin, for taking the time to comment on our latest offering. When I read your words, I thought of this quote from Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I believe both of us can agree, certify, and ask others to live the same. God bless you as you move forward in this brave New Year!

      “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
      ― Charles Dickens

  • Julie Trevino says:

    First of all, this article was so beautifully written. I could, vividly, see you eating your scrambled eggs and drinking your coffee before the sun rose. Then as you were talking to the gentleman sitting on the grounds of where his home used to be, the sun begins to rise. You truly are blessed with a gift!
    I don’t feel anger anymore but I feel sadness and disappointment. That’s what I felt as I read this article. Sadness that this man was left homeless and disappointment that a home was not found for him by a social worker from the facility he was residing.
    Where do I keep my memories? In my heart. And yes, I only share them with people in my life who will understand my faith. Let ME explain…as I was leaving the CCISD administration building one day, driving down Leopard street, I asked Jesus “Lord, I know You are here among the homeless; show me Your Face! As I’m slowly driving, looking at each homeless person, I noticed they would all lower their head so I couldn’t see their faces. Then there was this one man who looked straight at me. We stared at each other as I drove by. As I drove past, I looked in my rear view mirror, I could still see Him looking at me! I had the most wonderful feeling in my heart!! One that I will always cherish!
    In my heart, I truly feel that this homeless man that you met was Jesus. We always cross paths with Him but sometimes we’re just so busy that we don’t see Him. Let us all see Jesus in everyone. The best time is when it’s quiet and peaceful. He is among us!

    • Caro says:

      What an amazing take on this experience which generated this blog piece. Yes, yes of course, we should see every “chance” encounter as a possible face-to-face meeting with Jesus! I will most certainly reflect on this aspect and invite/challenge our readers to do the same. Thank you so much again, Julie, and God bless you always!

      “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”

      ― Mother Teresa

  • Deacon Ron Martinez says:

    Everyday I meet new and not so new people around my neighborhood, my Parish, my pharmacy, or via a cell phone call, etc. More times than not I am asked “How are you?” or “How are you feeling today?” I also see and sense genuine concern with those questions. My answer is that I am genuinely “loving life”! I marvel at the responses I receive. Many are so surprised to hear that I am “loving life”. They press me to validate how I can be loving life. Sometimes they say that they thought I was very ill. Or they attempt to verify if it true that I have had a heart attack to which I will say not in but two. They tell me that they heard of my having a bypass surgery to which I will say yes I have had four bypasses and a stent installed. On and on. The Good News is God isn’t through with me yet. I have learned from my illnesses. I have enjoyed the quiet times in my life when I was quarantined due to COVID for 42 days. I prayed like I have never prayed before during those 42 days and when I pulled through my love for life increased exponentially. What I experienced during my hearty (pun intended) days in and out of the emergency rooms, hospital stays, cardiac rehab and at-home physical therapy have been priceless gifts to me! I am loving life because of all these blessings like never before. The humility of it all is Awesome because God gave me these opportunities to come close to death so that I could truly live. I know who I am.

    • Caro says:

      Hello again, old friend, and welcome back to these pages! You have certainly given us all quite a bit to process in terms of memory, faith, and complete abandonment to the will of our Father. Illness has an amazing way of bringing truth into focus and establishing the true norms of priorities in our lives. You have given us all tremendous witness to that. After the heart pun, my favorite line of your response is: The humility of it all is Awesome because God gave me these opportunities to come close to death so that I could truly live. I know who I am. All the best to you as you move forward in this great adventure we call “life,” especially as you are loving it.

  • Ann Fister says:

    I attended daily Mass at Mount Carmel before going on to teach a 5th grade class. I was so saddened, even though I am back home in Louisiana, when I heard that it had been torn down.
    Thank you Monsignor for sharing your memory.
    I pray for you daily.
    In Christ
    Ann Fister

    • Caro says:

      Thank you very much, Ann, for your response and very kind words. Of course I am especially appreciative of all your prayers and even more so, all the wonderful memories gathered at the OLPH Memory Field.

      “We are all the pieces of what we remember. We hold in ourselves the hopes and fears of those who love us. As long as there is love and memory, there is no true loss.”
      ― Cassandra Clare, City of Heavenly Fire

  • Denise Guerra says:

    Oh my goodness! What a wonderful story! Memories… some happy, some sad, are all we really have to tell our stories. What an awesome gift God gave us when He made a way for us to preserve our most treasured moments in our lives. Thank you for sharing this story… it really brought to mind some wonderful memories. God Bless You.

    • Caro says:

      Thank you so much, Denise, for your response to our latest post, “The Memory Field.” I think you are correct in pointing out that it is truly God who gives us this unique capacity to enjoy His presence within us. Mother Angelica used to teach that the presence of the Most Holy Trinity was indeed found with the human soul with the various components of will, intellect, and memory (three in one). God bless you and all your family!

      “Our memory is a more perfect world than the universe: it gives back life to those who no longer exist.”

      Guy de Maupassant

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