We are gradually programmed to treat our elderly with an ineffable disgust, a repulsion that dehumanizes and defaces. Consequently, our own greatest fear is getting old, becoming dependent and frail – because it signals the ultimate state of surrender: death. So we try our utmost to halt this unwavering march in deepening fragility; we try to exchange the temporal for the permanent, and inadvertently end up with the lifeless. Our notions of beauty are embodied in desperate experiments with plastic and chemical agents we think will bring us closer to the fabled Fountain of Youth. The waters from that legendary fountain have never been as bitterly, or as unsuccessfully, sought after as they are now.
There are other stories about getting old, however, which we can reclaim; these stories suggest that aging is a slow remembrance of our apriori magnificence, and that as we lose our youthful vitality and physical exuberance, we heed a grander call of life. These stories suggest that life cannot be bottled up, marketed and dealt with passively – that life is found not only in the flowing, but in the ebbing as well. The real tragedy of life is not in seeing it slip from our grip, but in supposing we need to grip it in the first instance. When we come to realize that death is intricately woven into the fabric of life, that there are a thousand ways of being alive as opposed to the idea that there is only one, and that in more ways than we can comprehend, our being alive is the work and gift of communities as small and seemingly insignificant as intestinal bacteria and as large and overtly impressive as nebula and exploding stars, we will find a peaceful place in our hearts for getting old, in losing ourselves over and over again to the orchestra of surrender that innervates the universe. We will understand anew that getting old is our out-clause, the mechanism invented by consciousness to break us away from our noble and wonderful meat-suits in order to introduce us to other ways of being alive.
I imagine that if and when we finally find the fabled Fountain of Youth, its bitter waters will not so much restore our youthful appearances as it would rehabilitate our appreciation for the transient – helping us celebrate our flailing skins, mottled complexion, and graying hair. And when we drink from it, we will realize that the truly youthful are those who recognize their alliance to, and inexplicable intimacy with, a universe that defies, transcends and disturbs the very notion of age.