We attended a dinner party last night to help celebrate a dear friend’s 75th birthday. There were 10 of us altogether, and as I looked around the table I realized every person there, at one time or another, had to face an incredibly difficult challenge. Some of our friends are currently dealing with significant health issues. One is in the middle of a devastating financial crisis. A couple of them have had their hearts broken by children who made some incredibly stupid choices, and three have had to bury their spouses – one just recently.

I could go on and on about this group of friends and the challenges they’ve faced, but that’s not how they define themselves. They are constantly reinventing themselves and finding new passions to pursue in spite of their difficulties.

Our 84-year old friend who has Parkinson’s will be going on a West Coast road trip next week to visit with four students he mentored through law school. His wife, who is in her second term as mayor, will be going to Japan to strengthen business relationships and hopefully bring more jobs to our community. Our quiet-spoken, 80 year-old friend Hazel just received a grant to do a Story Corps project at the Museum of Mental Health, which she founded two years ago. One friend is a retired doctor. His wife is a retired nurse. They both volunteer at the free medical clinic. One friend launched a successful photography business after a late-age divorce, and another developed a nation-wide campaign to end the death penalty.

It was a wonderful evening. I love these people, and I feel so incredibly lucky that each one is my friend. We are all aware that our time left on this earth is getting shorter and shorter, so we’re being very careful to not waste effort or energy on anything negative. It’s reassuring to think that regardless of the mistakes we’ve made or the challenges we’ve faced, that we can still have an influence on how the world will remember us by choosing how we define ourselves during this final stage of our lives.