As I was getting ready to leave for Providence, RI, for another gathering of independent booksellers, I received an e-mail about something I’d written about attending a 40th high school reunion. It’s up on a Web site (, but now I’ve added it here. I don’t think it matters particularly where you went to high school: the reasons for going back are all pretty much the same. This reunion is for Columbia High School in Maplewood, NJ.

So I was asked to write something to encourage the Class of 1971 to show up at our 40th reunion. Fact is, I’m not too clear on that, and the reunion committee is doing just fine without me: I hear they’ve signed up nearly three hundred people who hope to attend.

I used to think that the best reason to attend a high-school reunion was to see how much progress everyone had made recovering from being teenagers. But that was before Facebook made it possible to feel like you’re spending eternity in your neighbor’s living room, complete with family photos and digitized accounts of summer vacations.

Of course, there is always the standard reason to attend a 40th reunion—to remember a simpler time when your knees were in good working order, and you worried about having enough money for Don’s instead of wringing your hands over the trade imbalance with China.

But here’s my reason for going—at least one of them. I want to be in a room crowded with people who know precisely what I know of a time and place that is becoming more difficult to remember in detail. Many of us have known each other since grammar school or junior high, and I want to be in a room with people who recall exactly how it looked when the street lamps came on during a November afternoon—who remember the rainbow glimmer of Christmas lights along South Orange Avenue, and the happiness of Saturdays watching a double feature at the Maplewood, and how exciting it was to be in school the day after the Beatles first appeared on Ed Sullivan.

I find the idea of that room comforting and joyous. I hope you do as well.

And here’s a final thought: Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve discovered that the wisdom ascribed to middle age is wildly overrated; life can still be just plain confusing; but this much I can say with some certainty. Live long enough to make it to your 40th high-school reunion and along the way you will find your portion of joy and sorrow, and the joy is sweeter if you can share it with old friends, and the sorrows are less burdensome.

I never thought about this so many years ago when my memories were being created. I do think about it now.

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