WHEN ALL THE ‘WHAT-IFS’ ADD UP TO ‘SO WHAT?’

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Sitting in the audience as my youngest stepped up to receive his high-school diploma from Trinity Christian School, my mind spun backward.

Has it really been 36 years since I was part of that procession down Merrimack Street from the former St. Joseph High School to St. Jean Baptiste Church? There were 55 graduates in the Class of 1973 — there were 22 in my son’s class. Not too many of us stayed in touch — or maybe just not too many stayed in touch with me. Some went into the military, some to college. Class president Pete Lellos, one of the smartest people I have ever known, died about 10 years ago.

College wasn’t in the cards for me. There were no funds available, and although I was a bright student, no schools were knocking down my door offering a full-boat scholarship. Beyond that, all I wanted to do at the time was get a job, earn some money and move out of the house.

My mom died just before I entered high school and my older siblings had all gotten married, leaving me with a father grieving for his wife, and not at all concerned about the emotional needs of a teenage boy.

Yeah, I wanted to get out.

I started work as an assembler at Microwave Associates in Burlington two days after graduation and have held a job of some kind ever since. Sometimes two or three. I managed to make it back to school, taking night classes at UMass Lowell while driving a truck during the day and raising a family, and somehow wound up working for The Sun in 2000.

I remember stepping off the elevator and into the fourth-floor newsroom back in the old office at 15 Kearney Square, thinking I had finally arrived. I took a lot of detours, but I had finally arrived.

I’m sure we’ve all had that notion that if we could go back and do it all over we would do things differently. I would have “applied myself” as so many of the good nuns at St. Joe’s used to admonish me. I would have gone on to college and earned a degree and landed a good job and saved money and bought a house and invested in the market and sold my house to buy a bigger house and salted more money away so I wouldn’t now be pulling out my hair wondering how on Earth am I going to pay for my son’s four years at Bob Jones University.

I would have taken a Civil Service exam and worked for the state, where a healthy pension would be awaiting me when I retired. In fact, had I gotten a Civil Service job right out of high school, I would probably be retired by now and working on a second career — perhaps writing for a newspaper.

I would have taken better care of myself so I wouldn’t be dealing with some of the health issues I have now. I would have learned how to fix a car, bang a nail, wire a house.

But then I stop and think. Yeah, all those things would have been nice, but — and this makes all the difference in the world — would I still have met Diane? Would I still have been able to watch Kathleen and Rory grow up?

Oh, sure, most likely I would have been married and had children, but it would not have been them and I would not give that up for anything in the world.

If I could go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be worth it.