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.

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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