A beautiful woman in her 40’s, sitting next to me at a basketball game as we watched our daughters competing, did something in one sweeping moment that made me ponder the idea of never growing old. As she looked at her arms, tan and toned from exercise, she growled at what she thought was a disgusting display of aging skin on her forearm. In disbelief and perhaps disgust that made her giggle nervously, she felt ashamed in an avant-garde moment of witnessing the physical transformation that age has on the body. And her moment of self-loathing at something that few other people would have ever noticed – brings to life the eternal search and inner battle for the fountain of youth.
While it may seem that it is women who curse the sagging boobs, the stretch marks that prove they carried a child or the constant battle against hormonal fat surges – men too have an apprehension of aging. In fact, it seems more plausible that fearing the aging process is something ingrained in the human psyche. Old people are everywhere – yet until we see the black spots on our own hands, the abundance of moles we acquire throughout the years or the wrinkled skin that seems to make us feel old on the outside, few of us realize that we are constantly moving closer to that point in our lives. One day…that old woman with the crooked back and cane, will be us! It could simply be fear that causes us to ignore the realities of our own fate. But is it worth it?
Take a look at the market for aging products. Multi-billion dollar companies have spent millions researching ways to slow down the aging process. But you know what? You can’t really do it. While plastic surgery, botox or some cream may seem to work for a while, the end result is that all of us will grow old. It is an unstoppable force in a world where humans have clung to having control. The hope is that when we reach that point, we won’t sit in disgust at what has become of our shell. After all, the physical body is just that…a shell…of who and what we are inside. And it is these insides that capture the hearts of the people in our lives we love and who love us back. Wouldn’t it be easier to accept the changes like notches in our belts rather than fight or disfigure our confidence because they exist?
Still, there are some Bahamian jellyfish that defy this process, causing many to believe that it is possible to never age. Even without a brain, these creatures that live in the ancient waters of the hidden Bahamian lakes are able to reach sexual maturity and then go backwards. Then, they go forwards again, never outliving the exciting and surging days that are likened to those cultivated during teen hood. These jellyfish never truly age and they never die. This process, called transdifferentiation, allows them to regenerate every cell in their body over and over again, without ever living into the years that bring humans arthritis, wrinkles, illness and age spots. Sound like Heaven? You aren’t alone as millions of people each year travel to these lakes to see the jellyfish and dive into the waters that they fancy may potentially have the answers to eternal life.
The waters where they live have been the subject of scientific research for hundreds of years. And it is the search for the secrets that lie within the belly of these waters that ended up killing Ponce De Leon himself. Interestingly enough, even Ponce – an avid adventurist and explorer in his mere 30’s could not resist one last voyage to these waters where he was told the fountain of youth resided. Call it egotistical if you will, but even back then, humankind could not stand the idea of their face disfiguring with age.
The extensive rainforest and wooly branches, most of which contained (and still do today) poisonous plant life and medicinal herbs acted like a barbaric gate to the trails that led to the lakes. Yet still, even with full understanding of the dangers ahead and the risks associated with traveling through this part of the world, he traveled. Harried and desperate. Spicy and fragrant herbs dotted the trails that Bahamian natives had used since antiquity to travel to the mystical waters where the turritopsis nutricula jellyfish spent their days in the throttles of eternal youth. And on his whim and in his hurry, he ate one pungent and fruity herb that would eventually cause him to die, just days before he was set to arrive at the Fountain of Youth in the hidden lakes. He never saw the jellyfish. He never tasted the waters, even though the juices of eternal youth hung upon his palate on his deathbed. Ironic or simply God’s way?
And still today, scientists have yet to duplicate, fully understand, or even pinpoint whether it is the water that keeps these jellyfish young, or something about the jellyfish themselves. Millions of tourists travel to this part of the world, led by native Bushmen to these lakes where the jellyfish float and bop without worry. More telling however, is that this part of the world that houses the lakes, the islands, the waters surrounding the landscape – has more people living to or beyond 100 years old than any other. There is less illness, less pain, less chronic disease and most importantly, more laughter, more love, more family, and simplicity in living. Maybe it has nothing to do with the jellyfish or the water. Could this be the secret that we are all looking for?
Snap back to reality, sitting next to a woman whose healthy appearance would make any woman in her 40’s (or 30’ for that matter) jealous, and it becomes apparent that while we may want to look young forever, and live forever, even be fearful of aging – constantly rotating through the perilous, ambiguous and erratic days of youth would be more of a life sentence than a blessing. Sure, the physical you may look better, void of the wrinkle on the forearm or the crows feet and graying hair – but the mental, spiritual and emotional you that has learned and grown from so many mistakes, and so many angles of love, would be caught on a teeter totter of unknown circumstances, frivolous behavior and lacks from the absence of life lessons learned. Forever! Staying young forever, discovering the fountain of youth and erasing the signs inside and out that indicate we have matured, grown, transformed, and lived is definitely not the answer. Just ask Ponce De Leon.
Bottom line. Your skin, your hair, your body – is simply armor. Maybe it is nicked up from the war of life just a little bit. Smile, and no one will notice the imperfections that you see. It is what you carry inside that you bring forward, that lights up a room, that makes a heart melt and that draws people to love you. Quit worrying about aging. If someone doesn’t want to make love to you because you have a wrinkle, so be it. If you cannot look at the mirror without shame, guilt, remorse, resentment or criticism – then perhaps you should visit the Bahamas. Not for the lakes, not for the jellyfish – but for the meaning of life as the natives have found it. Perhaps you would be surprised.
When you stand in front of yourself and see nothing besides the image of age creeping up on you; or live in fear of the things you cannot change, you are unable to take hold of the things that do matter. Automatically, you lose the vibrancy, the magic and fuel that only a life, well lived and otherwise, can give you. One thing is for sure. Few people have given thought to the fact that perhaps, just maybe – it is these jellyfish that are truly suffering, rather than blossoming. The secret to the fountain of youth is simply to live till you die – and to live simply, not to live-forever!