By Seymour I. "Spence" Toll
I recently turned 90 and find myself reflecting more than ever on the countless blessings in my life that leave me feeling grateful beyond measure.
On Dec. 16, 1944, I was a 19-year-old combat infantryman in a snow-covered Luxembourg forest. It was the freezing first night of the Battle of the Bulge. In that grim setting, lethal bursts of Nazi rocket mortar shrapnel killed my nearby rifle squad mates, while inscrutable fate left me a wounded survivor rather than a mutilated corpse. Gratitude for my life and grief for their deaths persist as the clearest and most immediate feelings in this 90th year.
What nurtured my years of childhood gratitude were wise and great-hearted parents. Their endless love was a spiritual legacy my brother, sisters, and I always shared. Whether it was the soulful ingredients they used to flavor our daily family dinners, their valuable mentoring throughout precollege years, or their providing us summer months in overnight camps, our dear parents transformed two adults and four children into one of civilization's fundamental elements: a loving family.
For 48 years I was blessed with a wonderful wife, Jean, whom pancreatic cancer swept away in 1999. A charmingly modest woman of graceful physical skills - swimming, sailing, fishing, tennis, skiing, hiking - she was a gifted book editor, historian, and civic leader in local library and school affairs. Ever available, she was the unfailingly constructive editor of my writing .
Jean was a beautifully devoted mother of our four superb daughters, and her gentle voice and manner truly reflected her most powerful moral principle: Be kind. Our daughters carry on that ethic in the parenting of their eight truly lovable children. Their kindness was also apparent in the memorably loving 90th birthday brunch they organized for me. Their delightful humor was captured in a celebratory cake that was decorated with a photograph of me that was multicolored and delicious.
Gratitude is a feeling true friends inspire. I have been blessed with them socially and professionally. Whether we made martinis and dinners for each other and enjoyed theater and concerts together, or they went sailing, canoeing, and fishing with Jean and me at our place on the coast of Maine, true friends have been true joys. Such gratitude also reaches deep into my career as a trial lawyer. Some of my warmest lawyer friends were law firm colleagues as well as courtroom adversaries.
Having grown this old, I can sometimes seem to remember little more than my name and residential address. What I never forget, however, is my needless worrying. This often-quoted sentiment has it right:
"I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened."
What I will also never forget is gratitude, and that's for a blessed life 90 years long.