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Max Roytenberg

Max Roytenberg: The Fountain of Youth

Max Roytenberg, posted June 15, 2015, Vancouver, Canada






So, the story goes like this, Ponce de Leon, a Spanish adventurer and explorer, was convinced that there existed a fountain of youth with magical powers. He looked all over Florida, searching for the fabled fountain. Why there, I don’t know-maybe he knew it would be the ultimate place to retire. One sip from its waters was to be enough to roll back the years, and bring one back to one’s youth. Today, our scientists tell us that stem cells from the umbilical cord of the newly-born have the power to make us youthful. They can do the trick, rejuvenating our DNA cells, repairing the damages that age has brought with it. With renewed organs, who can say how much longer we could live healthy lives? All we have to do is find a way of renewing those magical stem cells we all carry within us as we replace our old cells with the new.


Recently, my Bride and I, after looking for the fountain of youth under the sun of Arizona, returned to our home in Vancouver. A few days afterward, we were graciously invited by new acquaintances to participate in the first night of the Passover celebration. We were a small group, with the ages eighty to just over eight represented. It was such a pleasure to be part of a group where everyone seemed to be so well-balanced and normal, nary a syndrome nor a trauma in evidence, relations between adults and between parents and children, so wholesome. But most of all, I was struck by the dynamism of the children, their outgoing nature and their energy, spontaneity and intelligence. These people are doing things so right! So often the interaction between adults and children on such occasions can make one cringe and swear off parenthood. 


Particularly in the case of Gracie, the youngest of our group, there was emitted a Vesuvius of energy, as if we were seated around a bonfire, warming ourselves in the glow given off by the spirit she shared with all. Her eyes flashed when she spoke, her face animated and her body rich in movement, even as she sat. Her conversation was full of ideas well beyond her apparent years, but still endearing coming from one so young. When she won a point she practically jumped for joy. It was as if the youthful emanation she unconsciously broadcast, imparted to us, at least temporarily, the essence of what we might have found in Ponce de Leon’s fountain. I felt like bouncing around in sympathy. I hugged myself with the pleasure of just being in her company, and that of her older brother, Abe. It made me think about how important it is that we choose so wisely the company we keep. And how fortunate those kids are to have such great parents.


We need to be surrounded by people who fill us with ‘joie de vivre’ as much as we can. Don’t we search out the company of people who make us feel good, rather than the other kind? Don’t we need and want to be stimulated by ideas and actions that bring us out of ourselves? Isn’t that what keeps us young, our minds active, our bodies in motion? Aren’t some people so young beyond their years? Don’t we draw sustenance from being in their company? Can’t we find such people with that quality all over the age spectrum? There are youthful bodies and there are youthful spirits, and they don’t necessarily have to go together.


Sometimes, I let my inner child out to play. I didn’t do that very much when I was young. The young can be carefree and even careless, perhaps because they have no conception of consequences. When we reach the age of reason we worry a lot about the consequences of our actions. Often, our parents make sure we think about that. Being older, like myself, (unemployed and with senility as an excuse,) I can be less concerned, less careful, and I can happily expose my unalloyed joy when the occasion arises, shout and sing and carry-on, without worrying too much about what people think. I think other people are more likely to let it all hang out when they feel freer to do so.


Yes, but isn’t it fun to be among the young who can radiate that same kind of energy just by being alive? I think so! I am attracted so much by the essence of youth that is in the air around them, when they are being what they are, young, and in full discovery mode, alert, and trying, every instant, to capture life going on around them. That’s what Gracie seemed to embody. It would be great if we could capture that essence and inoculate ourselves with it every morning of our lives. That would be the best drug of all, what we are looking for from the fabled fountain of youth.


Isn’t the secret curiosity? If we are interested, truly interested, in the people around us, interested in what makes them tick, don’t the people around us realize that and come to life right before our eyes? Don’t we then become more attractive to the people around us? Isn’t that the biggest compliment we can pay them? Isn’t their response the biggest compliment they can pay us? If we are curious about things and are interested in finding out more, don’t we learn more? Doesn’t that keep our minds alive, no matter what our age? Don’t we then become more interesting people to be with? We retain the snap and crackle like rice krispies. (I always loved that sound when I poured the milk on my cereal.) That’s what it is like, being with the young. That’s what it is like being with people that are stimulating; you can feel the snap, crackle and pop in the air.


Life is too short not to use all our time in the best possible way. We make compromises because we are giving of ourselves. But we also owe it to ourselves to do what we can to stay young and stimulated. We share the best parts of ourselves, not least, with our partners, our children, and, if we are fortunate, with, our grandchildren, being the kind of people we ourselves would like to be with. We owe it to ourselves to dig deep and recapture for ourselves the spontaneity we find in the young, that spontaneity we may have had when we were young. Sometimes we just have to hoot and holler!


Being with the young is one way of recharging our batteries. I find that being with the young, particularly the very young, is a way of tapping into that fountain of youth. Like Ponce de Leon, these days, I am always searching for that secret source.                                                                                                                       


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