Fountain of Youth

I’m reading a book about a group of scientists who discovered the so-called fountain of youth. I say “so-called” because it wasn’t a fountain, it was an injection of a substance that prevented telomeres from malfunctioning or wearing out. From what I understand, telomeres are a compound structure at the end of chromosomes that keep the long strands of DNA from getting tangled during cell replication. When they malfunction, you get cancer. When they wear down, you grow old. Apparently, if there is a way to keep telomeres at peak performance, you won’t get cancer, won’t grow older, won’t get any of the diseases of old age. You wouldn’t be immortal, of course, since you could die from any number of other causes, such as car accidents or non-DNA-related diseases. And I suppose you’d have to be especially careful of yourself to keep from being like the women in the movie Death Becomes Her.

Although it was an interesting premise, the story breaks down because the only way this group of exceedingly smart “immortals” thought of to keep their eternal youthfulness from being discovered is to find younger doppelgangers every twenty years or so, kill them off, and take over their identity. Ignoring the immorality and illegality of such a drastic solution, there would be myriad problems, such as fingerprints not matching. (I almost didn’t get my driver’s license renewed because my thumbprints didn’t match. They finally figured out that the previous thumbprint was printed at the tip rather than the meat of the thumb like the current print.)

It reminded me of a novel I once planned to write. I’d have to check my notes to find out why this particular character didn’t age (I think it had to do with a project they were working on that killed everyone else in the lab and left her unable to get older), but I do remember the first scene. She’s in a stall in a restroom while people she knows are primping at the mirror and talking about her, something to the effect of, “Who is she trying to kid? All that makeup she wears doesn’t fool me. She’s nowhere near as young as she pretends to be.” The character in the stall realizes it’s time to move on because the truth is she is trying to hide her age. The heavy make-up is to make her look older rather than younger.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Mostly I’m wondering if such a serum were available, would you take it? Would you want to be eternally young? To live forever, or as forever as possible?

I wouldn’t, though to be honest, I wouldn’t mind finding a true fountain of youth. I wouldn’t drink the water, though I might bathe my cheeks to plump them up (I don’t mind my wrinkles, but the crepey skin on my cheeks is sort of creeping me out.) And I’d like to bathe my legs in the water to keep them young, but for the rest of it, not so much.

In a way, I’m viewing the experience of aging the same way I now view grief. Although grief was utterly painful and angst-ridden while it had me in its grip, I’m glad I had the experience. It was way beyond anything I could have ever imagined, way beyond anything I’d ever read about. I tend to think aging is the same. As long as a self-aware person retains her ability to think and can process what she is thinking and feeling, it could be (and is) interesting to see some of the changes — not just physically but mentally and emotionally.

Besides, I think eternity could be utterly boring. I mean, what do you do with eternity? It’s the same thing I’ve wondered about when it comes to after-death eternity, though with pre-death eternity, at least you have a body to do things with, emotions to experience, things to see and hear and taste, but after a while, all things pall.

Even more than that, either you stay away from people entirely and miss out on the joy of love and friendships, or you remain alive while everyone you know and will ever know ends up dead. All that grief would be too much to handle, and if it isn’t, if one can lose and keep on losing without ever being affected, would life be worth living?

I guess I’m lucky in that I won’t ever have to make this choice, though in a certain sense, I make it every day because every day I do something to try to improve my life, my body, my mind. As far as I know, that’s all anyone can do without having access to a fountain of youth.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

6 Responses to “Fountain of Youth”

  1. Estragon Says:

    The question may not be entirely hypothetical. Although not exactly a fountain of youth, medical advances in the coming decade or two might well offer dramatic life and health longevity extension. The mRNA being used in some Bob vaccines, for example, has potentially important implications in oncology. I would be dead today but for the cancer treatment available even 10 years ago. I might be dead 30 seconds or 30 years from now, but either way, the treatment was a sort of fountain of youth.

    A problem with this might not be having to kill off youngsters to hide the lack of aging though, but rather that we might have to find a way to kill off otherwise healthy oldies who’ve lost their minds to dementia. Unfortunately, treatment for brain deterioration isn’t looking quite as promising as it is for many other diseases of aging. Canada has started struggling with this by way of debate around medical assistance in dying laws.

    Soylent Green anyone?

  2. rheashowalter Says:

    At the ripe old age of 72 I am having no issues with aging other than trying to remember to pace myself more than I used to. I have earned every wrinkle and white hair that I have from a life full of both pain and joy. (I don’t spend a lot of time in frotn of mirrors at this point.) What I love is the wisdom (sometimes) that has come from my experiences and all the things I have learned through the years. That has not stopped though I feel that I might be running out of time on that as I learn new things every day and my experiences help me to put them together in ways I was not able to when younger. Why can that not go on in the next stage? Learning and creating may well be a part of the next life – and using what we have learned here to deepen the understanding of who we really are. I don’t know, but I am optimistic. I wanted to learn to play the piano but lots of things stopped me; I have not begun to read all the books I want to read or finish the writings that I want to write; however, I still have no desire to live to a ripe old age of forever in this world. Maybe it is time for another one. For one thing I have lost most all of my family and many friends even by this age. Many of my friends now are my age or older and the idea that I would find myself without them is not appealing. I do not understand those who want to live forever in this world, but if they want to try they can go for it. For me, I prefer to live as natural a life as I can until I can join my husband, my son, my parents and grandparents, my friends, etc. I really hope to connect with them again. If that is not to be, I have lived a full life.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s funny but I just finished reading a book where one of the suspects was 72, and they eliminated him because he was “too elderly.” I know a lot of people, including you, who are still vital at 72. As for your comment about being able to put new experiences and knowledge in ways you weren’t able when you were younger — I’m finding that, too. My brother-in-law who is almost your age says the same thing. Apparently, while the body and the brain slow down, we develop an ability to see things more clearly. And odd sort of tradeoff.

  3. Uthayanan Says:

    Her last days (before she got cancer) my wife became very simple, (no ego, never vanity badly placed) delicate, discrete and sage. It will come only with old age and maturity.
    That is one of the reason it’s hurts me more than before. The best part of my marriage life. This make me to live shell-shocked every day.
    Getting old like a good wine. I have learned a lot with my grandmother and with my mother with their older age.
    I lost both in a worst circumstance and now my wife.
    That is why my grief made me put into question of the life differently.

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