The time wasn’t right. I wasn’t ready. No way.
Those are just some of the thoughts I had when my mentor, Meg, passed away at 92 in 2016. I was 63, at the time off in Egypt, riding horses and adventuring when she had fallen, broken her hip, and was gone almost overnight.
By the time I got home, ready to have my monthly lunch with Meg to share our stories, her story had ended. I didn’t know it at the time, but in passing, she had also passed me the torch.
I had met Meg when she was just about to turn sixty. She was a successful entrepreneur, I wasn’t. Meg was interesting to me because of how she was aging so well. Up until she broke her hip she was working out several times a week with a trainer, eating carefully, reading voraciously, and mentoring many.
I was one of the lucky ones to have her attention and care for thirty-three years.
When she passed, each one of us got a torch. What would we do with it?
Setting the Example
A few years back I wrote a story about popping out 120 pushups on a birthday. Not girlie pushups, but men’s. I published that piece, which got far more traction than I’d expected. One man wrote me enthusiastically, “I’m showing this to my daughters!”
I was 68 at the time. At 70, I am still doing 100 every day, a fundamental part of the routine that keeps me strong. At my gym, younger women ask me questions all the time about how to do certain exercises, and how I “get” to do adventure travel as my primary life activity. Those interactions are part of what carrying the torch looks like.
Before you berate me for suggesting that you do what I do, please. Meg didn’t do 100 pushups either. That’s not the point. That’s just what I do. The point is what you and I as silver sisters (grey hair or not) are doing to give back and show the way for new generations.
If you and I can bravely let go of any ridiculous notion that we have to look like a twenty-something and come to some kind of peace with the wrinkles that we have earned in life, that allows us to concentrate on living our lives in full during the very best time of our lives. For some, like my buddy Maggie, it meant getting her Rescue Diver certification at 67 and her Instrument Pilot’s License at 69.
My friends tend to like pushing their limits as they age. There is nothing in this piece that says that has to be you. What I’m suggesting is that whatever you do with your time after sixty, there is a chance to be a torch bearer for younger people, most especially women.
The Choice to Be What You Always Wanted to Be
The great writer George Eliot wrote It is never too late to be what you might have been. Once your kids are living their own lives, if you had children, if you are free of a marriage that didn’t work or however you find yourself late in life, is now the time to write that book? Explore the world? Learn salsa or martial arts?
Why not you, and why not now?
A friend of mine, a Berkeley PhD, learned to ride Harleys in her late fifties. My kinda woman. May not be your kinda woman, but then, who is?
Who was your torch bearer?
Meg didn’t inspire me to start a business or get on the board of a bank. She did, however, nurture me as a writer. She also modeled how to live well by taking good care of her body through proper food and exercise. I dealt with eating disorders for years. Her steady example was just one reason I was able to heal.
You might take up painting. Or work to get out the vote. Perhaps you rescue animals or massage horses. It makes no difference how we choose to express ourselves. The real message is how inspired we are in our own lives, which so often goes on to inspire those around us. The reason this is important is that one of the key legs of the stool of healthy aging is having a purpose. The other three are healthy food, lots of movement and a great circle of friends.
In this regard, we often don’t realize who’s watching. Many of us may head for the gym, feeling like fools with our Covid-expanded waistlines. Truthfully, everyone else did, too. What’s inspiring about you and me is that we, with our grey hair and wrinkles, are teaching by example, that body care never stops. We show up anyway, knowing that how we feel is far more important than looking like an ingenue.
Meg was the example for me that my own mother wasn’t. In fact, I am today the person my mother wanted to be- a world traveler who spends a lot of time in Africa, where she so badly wished to go. Every time I’m there my mother looks out through my eyes. Meg was one of the women who inspired me to live that amazing life.
This is in no way a condemnation of my mother; it simply says that we can be “mothered” by amazing women. If we wish and are so moved, we pass it on ourselves to others who seek examples for what life can be when middle age dumps us rather unceremoniously into, well, our goddesshood, if you will.
Our later years can be so many things: a time to create, a time to explore. And while world dominance (just kidding) may no longer be so attractive, perhaps a part of the world you longed to see, like Africa for my mother, is on the menu. Those are the gifts we give ourselves. They are also gifts we give others who observe us when we live the life we so wish on our terms.
That’s what being a torch-bearer means: we inspire by living authentically. The torch will wobble; we’ll drop it once in a while. Mine burned my foot more than I care to admit, but I keep picking it up and moving along. When we make friends with young people, when we mentor, when we are willing to give our time, we transform others, just like Meg did for me.
And, you don’t have to. Not at all.
We Never Stop Needing Inspiration
The way I see it, we never stop needing inspiration. After Meg passed, I found new inspiration not only in real-life women whose lives I admired, but also other older women whose wisdom and great courage buoyed me through tough times. Some I read about. Some I’ve befriended.
Think of it this way. If you asked yourself what would inspire you to live the life you always wanted (short of winning the lottery, anyway), what would you be doing differently?
The answer may be, not a thing.
If there is that one thing, like see the Eiffel Tower, explore the Amazon, write a book about the family, whatever it is, what is getting in the way?
My suggestion, for what it’s worth, is to go find or read about someone who did that thing you wanted to do. Sometimes just reading about how someone else achieved that goal late in life might be the very thing that removes whatever real or imagined obstacles for you to do the same, or even better.
One woman in had been a reader of my material for some years. One day she wrote me about how tired she was of my beating the fitness drum . Then she revealed that she’d hired a trainer at her gym, and beyond all expectations, loved it. Now nearly two years later, she is 74 and getting ready to take a trainer’s certification of her own, after losing weight, gaining strength and retooling herself to, as she puts it, to “finish strong.”
The older we get, the less it’s about gathering accolades or applause or impressing people. More so, it’s making the best of the time we have left to us. Since so much of what is wonderful in life is how we give back to others, we may get great satisfaction in setting an example or mentoring.
Well then. Isn’t it a wonderful notion that by doing what we’ve always wanted, we may well be the inspiration for someone who is standing in shadows, waiting for the right torch to light the way?
If you and I surround ourselves with inspired people, we are more likely to be moved to live an inspired life, what ever that means on our unique terms.
Is it your time to be inspired, to inspire? We never know who’s watching, and whose life we may change when we choose to bear a torch.
THE GUEST AUTHOR
Julia Hubbel is a prize-winning author and journalist. She began her adventure travel career at 58, climbed Kilimanjaro at 60 and hasn't looked back since. A professional speaker and blogger, Julia's work is intended to "Move People's Lives," to get them out and active and nature, pushing their boundaries. A self-professed "Horizon Huntress" with a wicked sense of humor, Julia loves to push her boundaries both internally and externally. A lifetime bodybuilder, she wants people to understand that good food and exercise are acts of kindness, especially as we age. You can find her work at https://www.walkaboutsaga.com/