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Two very different kinds of Thanksgiving

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[todaysdate]

By Mark Azzara

Thanksgiving was, um, “memorable” this year.

I participated in two Thanksgiving feasts in three days, but you’d be wrong to think I’m about to launch into a diatribe about dietary excess. If anything, my concern has nothing to do with what we’re putting into our mouths and everything to do with what’s coming out of them.

The two feasts couldn’t have been more different. The Thursday dinner was hosted by a couple from my prayer group, who invite singles like me to join them for their feast. (I contributed scalloped potatoes, in case you’re curious.)

The second feast, on Saturday, was at the home of a couple that was raised Christian but has little use for faith anymore. Of the nine people at the table, only one other person admitted going to church regularly.

On Thursday we talked about how humbled we are by the skills of others. One of the guests, a guitarist who leads the prayer group’s worship band, said he has become aware of how little skill he has, compared to the other members of a band that’s cobbled together annually to present Andrew Petersen’s “Behold the Lamb” just before Christmas.

I admitted that I spent 20 years, on and off (mostly off), working on a novel that impressed editors but that I knew would never be published because of the esoteric content. I also admitted that I once dreamed of being a novelist — something my friend’s sister has accomplished, having recently landed a two-book deal with Penguin. When I tried writing a second novel, it became clear that I lack the requisite skills, but I am nevertheless content that I accomplished my goal of writing the one book that was in me.

We also grieved over where a mutual friend wound up after divorcing his wife, abandoning a budding career as a Christian musician, and leaving a charity he co-founded that helps victims of child sex slavery. He now has a girlfriend and a new gig playing embarrassingly bad love songs. But we didn’t laugh at or vilify him. If anything, we were inspired to pray for him.

On Saturday, rather than confessing shortcomings and being thankful for modest successes, the guests talked mostly about how stupid other people are. Several guests engaged in a long rant about a hypochondriac with a raging temper who is so disliked that people in offices and stores hide whenever they see her coming. Her one redeeming characteristic: Compared to her parents and sister, she’s the sane one.

At this party, faith was an afterthought. The hostess talked about her plans to go to church on Christmas Day — not to worship God but to honor her mother by paying for flowers in her name on the altar.

Her son was having none of it. “My idea of Christmas,” he said, “is a bottle of bourbon and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ ”

Saturday’s dinner saddened me because it spoke, with a kind of twisted eloquence, about the spiritual destitution of so many people. But it also reminded me of where I’ve come from. Thursday’s feast filled me with joy and reminded me where I’m headed, but I’m not gloating. On the contrary, I now have several more people to pray for.

By the way, where are you coming from? And where are you headed?

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 facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master's degree from the University of Connecticut.

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