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The gift of pure joy

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By Mark Azzara

Dear Friend,

I spent my birthday by giving a gift rather than receiving one, and it turned out to be one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

My oldest, teenaged granddaughter and her friend visited the family for a few days earlier this month, and on a Sunday I took them to an aquarium and on a “research cruise” out into the bay.

My granddaughter’s middle name is Joy and on that day I saw how appropriate the name is.

She had a blast inside the aquarium, touching everything she was allowed to touch and photographing every creature in every exhibit or tank. She had taken a photography course and was using every bit of the knowledge she had gained.

But as intense as she was with the camera in her hand, her attitude changed immediately and completely once we were on that boat and the crew started hauling stuff out of the water for the passengers to examine.

Joy was into everything – with a passion I have never seen before. She didn’t mind getting wet, or getting mud on her hands or clothes. She wanted to see, touch and examine the creatures, great and small, that had been dumped onto three water-filled examination tables, from the tiniest shell to the largest crab.

My granddaughter has been devoted to her hermit crabs for several years, building an intricate environment for them and learning everything she can about them. But on that boat I saw how utterly fascinated and curious she was about all the creatures she was seeing, many for the first time.

It is one thing to give gifts to grandchildren, whether it’s money, clothing or purely fun things. It’s something else to give them freedom to explore and to watch them revel in the opportunity.

My three grandchildren are totally different, which is to say the younger two wouldn’t have exhibited the same kind of fascination if they had been on that boat. That’s OK. They are who they are.

But it was a thrill to see a side of my oldest grandchild that I’ve never seen before. When I told her mom, my daughter, about the experience, she confirmed my observations, saying her daughter is like that whenever the family goes to the beach. She spends some time in the water but most of it combing the beach for creatures.

That cruise was one of the best birthday experiences I’ve ever had because I received the gift of seeing my granddaughter in a way I’ve never seen her before. Thrilled. Fascinated. Totally absorbed in what she was doing. It was like this girl was growing up into a woman right in front of my eyes.

I began to think in more concrete terms about whether this might be a sign of her career path. Grandparents tend to wonder about what the future holds for their grandchildren. They tend to dream big dreams but not for fame or riches.

Grandparents pray for a fulfilling life for their grandchildren. And on that boat I got the hope that my prayers are being answered.

All God’s blessings – Mark

Mark Azzara

About Mark Azzara

Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, "And So Are You." He is active in his church and a non-denominational prayer community and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal Sate Los Angeles. He holds a master's degree from the University of Connecticut.

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