It must have been more than ten years ago when I discovered her. Probably around the time Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein were in the midst of a thrilling but risky start-up phase, working toward a vision of licensing imagery online. However, their global breakthrough was still to come and so I was in an agency in Munich, browsing through a heavy catalogue of glossy stock photography.
I can’t remember what kind of motif I was looking for or for which client, but I clearly recall getting drawn into the book’s smallish but largely fascinating “Golden Agers” section. Not your typical silver-haired, slender models – age 50 pretending to be 65. These seniors seemed genuine: soft-boned and deep-creased, expressive and exuding inner character. She had a full-page to herself.
Except for ordering numbers, very few of the photos in that book had an inkling of explanatory copy text. Hers read, “Margareta, age 99.” Followed by the question, “Looking back on your life, what would you have done differently?” Her answer in plain print: “I would have eaten more ice-cream.”
I don’t know if a catalogue staff member really asked Margareta this question, if she in fact answered or if the dialog was the fabrication of a marketing expert attempting to emotionally up-grade image 88785428. It doesn’t matter, because the idea of such a simple act placed in the context of a whole lifetime had a powerful impact on me. The instant I read that text a few things happened in my head.
First off, I immediately decided that I too needed to stop denying myself the sweat temptations of life and started a personal campaign I dubbed “Eat more ice-cream!” In so doing, I theoretically emancipated myself from the fashion world’s coup of skin and bones beauty (which I now affectionately call the “pumpkin on a stick” look). Maybe not the best decision considering I gained over 40 lbs. (= 20 kilograms!) in the few years following which I had to laboriously diet and exercise back off.
The second thing that happened more profoundly changed the way I reflect on my life. Because, although I had heard and read statements like this before, in that exact moment in my mid-twenties, I actually recognized the value of being able to think retrospectively across time. I stopped solely evaluating what had been in the past and began also assessing my current actions and decisions from the view-point of my much older self.
Here is what it is like to be “Back to the Future” for me. Let’s say I am wondering what I should do in a certain situation or how I should make the “right” decision. In my mind’s eye I start to see myself at 80, 90 or even 100 years old. I begin to feel that my older self is imminently wise, full of love and good intention toward my younger self. Then I ask my older self questions like these:
- “Looking back on your life, what would you have done differently?”
- “…, did the decision add to or take away from your overall happiness?”
- “…, did doing so further or hinder you in the achievement of your life’s goals?”
- “…, did it bring you closer to those you loved or distance you from them?”
- “…, is it something you regret not doing?”
- “…, what is the bigger picture?”
I often think of Margareta. Especially when I have dialogs with my older self – not every day, but sometimes when it seems to make sense.
Until we meet,
[This post is dedicated to my gentle Granny Kinnaird, who will always live on in me, however old I become.]