It’s the end of summer and I’m sitting on a blanket with my husband in one of London’s gorgeous parks. We’re basking in the golden glow of the late afternoon sun, sleepy from champagne and a picnic lunch. The tantalizing idea of a quick nap is starting to gain traction in my mind, but I assure myself that I’ll spring back to life once the concert starts.
Someone lets out a laughing snort behind me. I turn my head to locate its source and as I do so, a tanned woman with grey, bouncy curls catches my eye. She’s shoeless and is wearing a long, red dress. The style is quite casual yet at the same time it’s elegant. The material appears to embrace and then release her gently. It’s almost like she’s wearing liquid fabric.
She holds a champagne glass high above her head, which make her bangles snake their way up her freckled arm, clinking merrily against one another as they do so. An eclectic assortment, yet a closer look tells me they’ve been selected with care. Gold, copper and red complement one another too well to have been thrown together as an afterthought. I’m not sure why, but they give me the impression she’s well-traveled.
I try not to stare, but I’m mesmerized. She’s holding court. Her smile lights up her features, and whatever she’s saying has sent the group into hysterical fits of laughter; it’s making other people look and smile. Their mirth is infectious. I inspect her face, it’s very tanned, and get the impression she’s someone who spends a lot of time outdoors. When she smiles the lines around her sparkling blue eyes run deep. She looks like a woman who’s lived but who’s always laughed a lot.
I can’t help but notice how much her appearance is in sharp juxtaposition to that of the women she’s with. They’re all beautiful, but the others with their straight, blonde hair contrast with her more natural look and whilst they’re all laughing, nobody else’s face really changes expression. The other ladies are all very slender and wearing black; there’s so much groomed perfection that I suddenly feel like all the unruly pieces of myself have been magnified.
I return my gaze to the woman in red. Not because she’s any less perfect, but because I want to soak up her radiance and store her in my memory for those days when my own curls turn grey and when my eye crinkles run deep. Just watching her has energized me, and without exchanging a single word, her ease and sense of self has challenged the way I think about myself.
Six summers later, and she still comes to mind. She’s my close companion when I see changes in my face, and a wonderful reminder that beauty isn’t outward perfection. It’s the vibrant spirit of the woman who lives within.