It was misting on the way back to Maine.
The remnants from the rain that had begun earlier that morning in Massachusetts followed the car all the way up route 495. It made for a dreary landscape.
As you crested the Kittery Bridge, the familiar sense of being home settled on you the way a down blanket does on a cold night. Twilight was descending and with the mist, visibility was poor. You couldn’t see far off, but it was okay. You were able make out the mile markers standing sentry along the guardrails letting you know you were keeping it between the ditches.
You haven’t always.
You’ve gone off course at times. Your immaturity or your own willfulness took you down the road of your life a fair piece that wasn’t always good. You were forced to turn around and start over. Going off course, intentionally or not, leaves a mark.
Here’s the thing.
If you’re a human, you’re marked. Sometimes they come early, but after forty years, no one is left unscathed.
When you’re seventeen you have no idea about any of this. Your life is still an open sea. The horizon looks good from seventeen.
On graduation day, when you moved your tassel from one side of your cap to the other like a bookmark moved to the next chapter, you had no idea where you would go, or what you would become.
The radio kept you alert on the last leg home as you tried to stay focused through the windshield wipers sleepy rhythm. It’s funny how a song comes on at the right time and says just what your heart was trying to put into words the last hundred miles.
You turned the volume up when you heard the familiar piano notes:
I’m sailing away set an open course for the virgin sea
I’ve got to be free free to face the life that’s ahead of me
On board I’m the captain so climb aboard
We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I’ll try oh Lord I’ll try to carry on
For forty years you’ve tried to carry on and you bear the marks of doing so. There are lines on your face and a sag in your belly. The night you stood under the lights at the Knight’s of Columbus hall at your class reunion, silver and white strands shimmered from the top of your head. You are marked and so are the people you grew up with.
Standing with those who were once children with you is a sacred thing.
You shared the awkwardness and vulnerability of youth transitioning to adulthood with these people. Truly, no one was doing it well, despite what the prom pictures seemed to say.
You played with many of them.
You fought with a few of them.
You kissed a couple of them and to some you turned your immature cold shoulder.
You played four-square and roller skated and drank beer together, and you walked miles and miles through your town sharing your hopes and dreams with whomever would walk with you and listen to your goings on.
You cheered your voice raw at pep rallies and you sang fight songs at Thanksgiving Day football games. You held a day’s worth of school books in your arms navigating packed stairwells and you made out in the bowels of the school basement before the first bell.
You ate the equivalent of your weight in Friendlies french fries and Harry’s Pizza and you thought nothing of the next forty years. You were just one of a whole bunch of kids trying to grow up.
Then one day you all said good-bye.
I look to the sea reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we’ll try best that we can to carry on
It seems so ordinary, going back home for a class reunion, but ordinary it is not.
Not when you look into the face of a classmate and you see the marks life has etched there. Not when you discover what they’ve gained. Not when you learn what they have lost. Life is good, but it also has a way of beating the snot out of you.
Every one has a few ragged edges after forty years. You don’t know this when you’re seventeen.
On the day you and your classmates moved your tassels, you all wanted to live happily ever after. At seventeen, you know that fairy tales aren’t real, but youth still has you by the throat, so you wear hope like a coat. You are all sailing away from home for the first time and you are believing for calm seas.
Last Saturday you walked into a room full of people who may have navigated calm seas at times, but for many, it hadn’t been smooth sailing much of the time. But in that moment it was okay, because your lives had just intersected again and memories of youth came flooding back and what was shared together was what really mattered. So many memories, so many stories and so much laughter and then, suddenly, gratitude came into the room.
Gratitude, because you discovered that you never were the captain of your life and that life really is sacred. You were grateful because you got to intersect with those who shared your youth, kids who were just trying to grow up too.
Gratitude showed up, because despite the etchings on faces and the graying around temples, you knew there are still seas to be sailed.
It has been hard-wired into the human soul to be known and remembered. It’s why class reunions can be so hard. Sometimes you are remembered and sometimes you are not. But this is why reunions are also good. Reunions can be the little joggle that’s needed for it to all come flooding back.
And you are remembered.
You left the Knight’s of Columbus hall thankful that, these people, in big and small ways, were a part of your growing up. They knew you when.
You drove back to Maine reflecting on time gone by, so swift, like wind. Thankful for the threads of grace you see woven through your last forty years, and so grateful to the Captain of your soul who invited you to sail with Him.
By the time you reached Portland, it had gone dark and lights from the oncoming traffic had sparkled up the roadway. You were tired, but you told yourself you were almost home.
Then the perfect song came on the radio. You turned up the dial and you began to sing, remembering all the words.
You sang loud.
Just like you did in high school.
A gathering of angels appeared above my head
They sang to me this song of hope and this is what they said
They said come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me…