When I am an old woman, I will stand bare-skinned in swimming pool locker rooms, wrinkle-folded, freckled, raw and so beautifully beyond the thoughts and glances and criticisms and fear of the young eyes that will stare for a moment before looking shamefully away. I will listen to the singing cool of water evaporating, I will wait as the air and the passing of time whisper the droplets skyward. When I am dry enough, laughing, I will wear clothes that soothe me. I will smile at a toddler. I will be on my way.
When I am an old woman, I will waste no time worrying if the words I am saying are the right ones. I will speak boldly in the awkward moments when injustice is obvious and I am surrounded by painfully held tongues. I will sprinkle the kindest things into the ears of every stranger, unconcerned by their rejection, because we all grow scales against rejection in time. I will tell the lovely they are lovely, and the brave that they are brave, and the young that they are mighty, and the lonely that loneliness has a rich well of beauty just its own. I will sing loudly on trains and at bus stops if it suits me, and wink in the direction of curious passers by. If my legs are willing, I will dance.
When I am an old woman, I will tell my darkest stories with a shameless, wistful tongue. I will speak guiltlessly of the mistakes and the losses and the passions and the wounds. I will count sacred the risks and the arrows I took for love, recall them as the moments most lived and the tales most worth telling. I will let my eyes sparkle at the scandalous human stories we are all writing, let my heart laugh for the humor and beauty of it all.
When I am an old woman, I will choose my apologies carefully. I will stop being sorry for what I am not, or when I require care from others, or the places my weaker self shows through. I will spare you my excuses for crying when stories are heartfelt, or wearing the same hat as many days in a row as suits me, or being a few minutes late for lunch. I will love the things I love loudly, regardless of how hip or current or worthy you think they are. I will eat and listen to and carry close whatever it is I like.
When I am an old woman, I will dedicate days just to watching – just to slowing and collecting new words for new observations, new ways to notice your hand resting just so on a table, a new wrinkle in your forehead, the way a leaf colors and changes and falls. I will cultivate space and time to fall in love with everyone and everything just enough to bring them to life – I will love purposefully, and often, and mostly, and more. I will love grocery clerks and crosswalk attendants and mail carriers and stray cats with a diligent grace and a generous vocabulary. I will listen to their stories, because stories are the soul of everything, because stories are where we are born.
When I am an old woman, I will be careful with time and reckless with love. I will spend long days with exactly the people I’d prefer to be with, will make no apologies for craving their company and their touch and their voices. I will sleep when sleeping suits me and read when it doesn’t. I will take stiff limbs on long walks just to rest on your porch steps, to watch your children’s children play on your lawn, to waste away hours just being near. I will welcome accusations of eccentricity, because life is long, and only, and we are always just what we are.
When I am an old woman, I will dare those at the beginning, with lives wide and stretching before them, to cling to things that make them feel alive – to build their homes in the uncomfortable wild spaces, the places full of desire and gratitude and hope and flame. I will urge them to love as deeply and as wholly as they can, and when they cannot love further, I will suggest they love more. I will whisper to them again and again that they are only beginning, that they are writing beautiful broken stories, that there are many, many, so many adventures yet to start.
When I am an old woman, I will wonder why it took so long, so many years and so many lessons, to arrive there. I will wonder at the bare-skinned shame of my youth, the young body and the beautiful truths and naked failings I fought so hard to hide and cover and erase. I will regret only the years wasted holding back. I will regret only the words I never said. I will regret only the stories I was never quite brave enough to tell.
Youth is only wasted on the young.
photography by the generous and lovely Nancy Noble Barnes