The explorer Ponce de Leon was desperate to find a land of riches and the mystical “fountain of youth” when he landed in Florida in the early part of the fourteenth century. It was apparently a get rich quick scheme that had much more to do with finding gold and precious jewels than in locating the magical fountain that was said to reverse the aging process. In the Bible there is a similar fountain mentioned, in a place called Bethesda, where the sick and infirm came to touch the waters and be healed. Does it in fact exist in this day and age? I believe so.
First off, before you think I’m some kind of kook, I’ll explain. I don’t actually think there’s a basin with water in it that will bring back your youth. I don’t believe in magic of that kind, and neither, I think, did Ponce de Leon, or Hernando de Soto after him. I think they were fascinated by the idea of something otherworldly that could make them live forever, but aren’t we all? It’s one of the reasons I think we are so into vampires, zombies and the like right now. Just look at television shows, books, and movies.
Is that the answer? As a writer I am very sensitive to the idea of words being that source of everlasting youth. When I go back into my earlier writings I am transported back in time, and to an extent all readers are when they delve into literature from when they were young. The body secretes a hormone that emerges when those memories are triggered, creating a sense of release, not unlike letting out that breath that you were holding, like coming home and relaxing. The same is true of anything that triggers those memories, in essence bringing each person back to the time of his/her youth.
I believe it’s more than that, though. Think about people who have been in your life for quite a while, maybe even for the entirety of your life. I was talking with my sister a couple of nights ago about just this thought, that we think differently of people we’ve known for so long, that our views are distorted because of that. For example, my sister has been there my entire life, and my earliest solid memories of her are from when we were four and five respectively. When I look at her I can recall those episodes and I can go back in time, but I have memories of her from pretty much every stage of her life, so I can go back to any of those times.
However, there are so many people I grew up with but who I haven’t seen in at least 15 years. While I have those earliest memories of them and with them, that’s where it stops. So, for all intents and purposes, they stopped aging when I stopped seeing and talking to them. I have no solid memory of them past a certain point, so for me they will always be that young, and when I think of myself in relation to them I will also always be young. That’s a theoretical fountain of youth that I firmly believe in, and it stays intact until I see them again, if I ever see them again.
When Ponce de Leon never found the proverbial fountain of youth, he wasn’t devastated. Indeed, he believed Florida to be a bountiful harvest all on its own. When the people touched the pool at Bethesda and weren’t healed, it didn’t dampen their faith. Indeed, it made their faith stronger because they knew they just had to get rid of bad thoughts and become even more faithful in order to be worthy of the water’s restorative powers. The glory of the fountain of youth is in your belief that it can do what it is purported to be able to do. Otherwise it’s just regular water.
And where’s the fun in that?