About 1:30 a.m. this past Sunday, two patches of 40-somethings clustered in the parking lot outside The Marshfield Tavern in my hometown on Boston’s South Shore: four women and four men.

“Can you take a picture of us?” a woman asked.

How many guys does it take to pull off a photographic feat at 1:30 a.m. Three, apparently.
How many guys does it take to pull off a photographic feat at 1:30 a.m.? Three, apparently.

Three of the men swung into action, each taking photos while the other (that would be me) couldn’t resist the urge to snap a few shots of these guys, side by side, capturing wee-hour images of the women.

Next, it was the men’s turn to pose for a group shot—of course, only one woman was required for the task. These were the last of what were certainly hundreds upon hundreds of photographs encompassing the Marshfield High School Class of 1986’s 30-year reunion.

More than 100 other classmates had already drifted away, most having remained until after the event’s 11 p.m. scheduled conclusion. Now, nobody wanted to leave. How do you say good-bye to your roots, to a place and to friends who have meant so much to you?

From left to right: Sean, Rich, Mike & yours truly.
From left to right: Sean, Rich, Mike & yours truly.

Perhaps more than at any other juncture, this year’s get-together found us in vigorous mid-flight: kids in school, from pre-K to college, as well as some whose children have embarked on their own adult lives and even begun their own families. Yes, there were grandparents in our (relatively) youthful midst.

By and large, careers are in high gear: business leaders, medical professionals, entertainers, educators, social workers, military personnel, stewards of the environment, and so much more of our society’s fabric that was present and accounted for.

Through all the catch-up conversations held against the backdrop of nostalgic ‘80s music, recurring themes included overflowing passion to leave a positive mark on the world and compassion to serve what can be a daunting spectrum of needs—and people in need.

It was humbling to be in the presence of such abundant heart.

Class reunions stir a gamut of emotions: joy in reconnecting with those who helped see you through those awkward, vulnerable growing pains of adolescence…regret for opportunities missed over the years …disappointment over those who didn’t come…and sorrow over classmates and friends we have lost along the way.

With some friends, before the "official" reunion. Many of us go back 40-plus years.
With some friends, before the “official” reunion: Tom, Sean & Chris (Front, L-R); Paul, Joe, Rich & me (Rear, L-R). Many of us go back 40-plus years.

I traveled from Chicago and was touched by the many classmates who thanked me for coming. I was hardly the only one with a trek (including one friend who journeyed from Singapore) and I think I speak for all of the long-distance travelers in explaining what prompted my return:

I absolutely loved growing up in Marshfield. Whatever I do and wherever I go, I bring along the influences of the exceptionally good-hearted men and women I grew up with.

Going back is a way to go forward with renewed gratitude for these peers—and the families, parents, teachers, coaches and neighbors—who nurtured and shaped us.

It is now time to re-enter the 2016 stratosphere, a bittersweet lump in our throats and more than a little perturbed that we could not make this moment last just a bit longer.

But here’s the really good news about reflecting on your roots and returning to this place, and these friends, who have meant so much: you don’t have to say “good-bye” at all.

As we piled into our separate cars—windshields frosted from a chill serving notice to autumn’s imminent arrival—Rich, Sean, Mike and I opted for different, wistful words: “See you later.”

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