Not having any family nearby I’ve gradually come to dread most of the major holidays as they are typically “family” occasions. That was the case again this year as Thanksgiving, the big T-day, and the beginning of the holiday season, loomed on the calendar. I’ve lived alone for most of the past 25 yrs. Though I have many friends and keep busy with work, church and various other activities, the sense of isolation wears on me.
Sometimes I get invites from people who are almost total strangers. That is very kind, but I wouldn’t go anyway because its a “family” time. Somehow it just feels awkward to be an outsider among someone else’s family. And none of the various home church families whose orbits I’ve been in the past five years bothered to extend an invitation. Again, I probably would have begged off but it would have been nice to have been considered. I used to have a local circle of friends that felt like a family and we celebrated all the major holidays together for many years–but death, moves and illness gradually eroded the fellowship.
Anyway, for all of my pre-holiday angst and dread this Thanksgiving worked out wonderfully well–and I think that was God’s plan all along. There were two events this weekend that, like grace itself, were absolutely FREE.
Not that I couldn’t have paid for both–and probably would have, but the fact that they were free, as in generous, made them all the more special.
At noon on T-day I had dinner with about 200 others at St. Mary Magdalen in Altamonte Springs. It was a well organized event and the food was great. For a number of years one family from that parish, along with some helpers, have cooked turkeys with all the trimmings. We were seated at big round tables with linen tablecloths. There were 7 or 8 at our table and I knew three ladies, Millie, Evie and Marilyn, from a Catholic singles group that I was a part of many years ago. I saw my attorney John Michael and several other people I knew as well.
Overall, the atmosphere was very festive and joyous. The 200 or so folks were an odd assortment. There were a good number of seniors and handicapped, Latinos and Orientals, plus a scattering of intact families. Wheelchairs and walkers abounded. The nice thing about most Catholic parishes is that they’re multi-ethnic and very multi-generational. Its good to see doddering oldsters dining at the same table with children. There were some folks there who looked pretty down and out and unconnected and were it not for the Church would have had no place to go.
My background is partially Roman Catholic and I’m comfortable with Catholic events. I like it that they have beer and wine available—sans the sanctimony of most protestant churches. I’ve gone to a big nondenominational evangelical church for 23 years, plus home churches for five years. They all yammer on and on about being “family” but the bottom line is that when the holiday comes—not so much. St. Mary Magdalen’s generosity in feeding everyone (and whomever) a free Thanksgiving feast kind of goes along with the Church of Rome’s strong commitment to social justice.
That evening I went over to some friend’s place after an impromptu invite for supper and dessert. There were only four of us—a remnant of the larger group that met for so many years and shared the holidays together. Earlier, they had gone out to the Gaylord Palms for their fancy buffet and to see the ice sculptures. I was really pleased that they invited me to share a bite and have some fellowship that evening. It was pleasant but bittersweet. Those who were gone were in all of our thoughts.
The other free event of the weekend was the Orlando Messiah Society’s annual singing of Handel’s magnificent oratorio. This has been a free event held on the Sunday after T-day for the past 44 years. It’s obviously a labor of love for the program’s sponsors and the musicians. There is a volunteer chorus of 80 accompanied by 24 musicians and four featured guest singers. All in all its a first class production.
I’ve attended this event for 8 out of the past 9 years. Once I went with a group and another time I had a date but the other six years I was there by myself–and sometimes feeling a bit sorry for myself because I was alone. As I sat waiting for the music to begin a 60-ish Latino gentleman asked if the seat next to me was available. I said that it was. After he sat down and just before the music started he made the sign of the Cross. There was something utterly sincere and touching about the man’s gesture. I think he was feeling the same holy gratitude that I was feeling.