Looking back: My birthday and the gift of friendship

  • Columnist Mugs/Furniture Ben Conant

Published: 2/18/2019 11:36:29 AM

This month I become old. It’s an odd feeling, since I don’t feel much different. A bit creaky, perhaps, somewhat shorter, and undeniably grayer. But otherwise, just about the same.

When I was in high school, we had to write an essay entitled “What is the Best Stage of Life?” I don’t have the paper I wrote, but I remember the answer I gave. “Old age.” And I remember my reason. “Because then you can look back at your life and see what you have accomplished.”

Now I’m not so sure, but all in all, I have no complaints about reaching the four score stage, except one. I’m losing dear friends. It’s part of surviving, I guess, but I don’t like it.

It didn’t just begin. By the time I finished Stevens High School in Claremont, I had attended the funerals of two friends, gone before they even had a chance. One of them helped get me through sophomore Latin. The other had been a regular part of our after-school pickup games. I have never forgotten Wayne Gray or Billy Stringer.

This past year was marked with continuing losses, including two men and one woman who made a difference in many lives, including mine.

Carl Sapers was my law firm supervisor when I started work in 1965. He soon went from “Mr.” to “Carl,” and over time from superior to colleague to friend. He could be irascible, a quality that often makes people more interesting, but he was a “professional” in the best sense of the word. He believed in the majesty of the law and the value of institutions such as our law firm which, for at least most of its 106 years of existence, tried to serve both its clients and the community. Carl grew orchids, loved music and sailing, and cared about the public good.

Camille Sarrouf was a man of such impeccable judgment and high integrity that being with him always felt like an honor. Camille carried his Lebanese ancestry as a badge of honor and exemplified what it means to care about others. One time, we were on a bus in London, and the guide was telling us about the Duke of Westminster, landlord of much of the City. Camille had just one question: “Is the Duke charitable?”

He served on too many public and charitable boards for me to list, but one deserves mention – his 31 years of service on the board of St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis, founded by Danny Thomas, which treats children with cancer at no charge. After everyone was seated at his funeral last fall in West Roxbury, St. Jude’s board members from all over the country, including Marlo Thomas, entered the cathedral and sat in pews up front, reserved for them.

Chris Weeks was not an old friend but rather one whose friendship I gained quite recently through a book club. She was, as the Keene Sentinel wrote in a front-page tribute, “active and engaged, a fixture in Keene life.”

Chris lit up any room she entered, and I was lucky to be in several rooms with her, including my constitutional law classroom in the fall of 2017. By then she was being treated for cancer, but she showed up every week, a smart person who took the words “lifelong learning” literally. In one class I put her on the spot by calling on her, and I then told the rest of the class, “It’s ok, she’s a friend.” Chris shot back, with a twinkle in her eye, “Former friend.”

During the decades between my early losses of Wayne and Billy, and last year’s losses of Carl, Camille, and Chris, other friends departed this earth. Some lived to be as old as I am about to become, some did not. They enhanced my life by helping me accomplish the gift of friendship, and I miss them all.

Joseph D. Steinfield lives in Keene and Jaffrey. He is a lawyer at Prince Lobel in Boston and Of Counsel to the Law Office of Thomas R. Hanna in Keene. He can be reached at jsteinfield@hannalandlaw.com. Copyright 2019.


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