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I’ve been traveling solo, and enjoying an uncommon pleasure — staying with friends.

Some I’ve known for 30 years, some less.

I have been away a long time, working and playing in other countries, from India to America.

These friends all have families, some with children and dogs and cats at home.  Others would be called empty nesters, because their children are young adults, away at university or in new careers.  The nests are still filled with all the trophies and ribbons of childhood accomplishments, and — lucky for me — many photos showing the children’s happy development, their travels, friendships, and milestones of youth.

I’m struck by a common pose in these photos: A child is hugging friends for the camera, all with big grins, all flashing that hope and promise of soon-to-be adulthood.

It’s the same in every home, no matter the family’s origins or circumstances.

I want to tell the children of these photos how much their parents mean to me, how our friendships grew and changed, while they were growing up and changing.

I would tell them these friendships have changed, yet have not.  We’re still the same silly friends — laughing over all-you-can-eat sushi and reminding each other of past feasts where the skinniest guy in the crowd didn’t stop eating. He still hasn’t, and he’s still skinny.

I would reassure these children that, no matter what the future brings, friends and family are the foundation of a contented life.  It just might not always seem that way.

Seeing my friends after a long absence renews my hope, reminds me that our bonds are stronger, despite long separations by geography and time.

I am rejoicing, because the love of friends has carried me through so much, sustained me, comforted me, and filled my heart with joy.

I am grateful for friendships refreshed, amid children and cats and dogs and busy lives.

I am rejoicing.