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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 17, 2007

The common writer
Youth at any age

By Diane Cameron

It has been said that the line between youth and age is that point when you stop yearning to look older and begin to hope you look younger. That point now seems to begin on one’s 20th birthday. A recent article in the New York Times described young women, as young as 22, who are lying about their age, and fearing that 30 was over-the-hill.

The search for youth is an old--and timely-- story. It was in 1513 that Ponce de Leon went looking for the fountain of youth and claimed Florida. He was one of many who have sought the secret of being young. For centuries the myth of the Holy Grail drew searchers in quest of Christ’s chalice which, the myth promised, gave one eternal life.

Today those with the same desire for vitality have an endless bounty of pseudo-miracles to prolong the appearance of youth. We have lasers, Botox and plastic surgery. But there is some disappointment as the pressure to be young intensifies. A few years ago when the middle-aged population boom was predicted we imagined that have an older majority would mean a celebration of aging. We were wrong. Rather than the demographic bulge allowing us a new aesthetic and giving permission to de-babe, it has instead created even more pressure to not go gently into wrinkles and gray hair.

But what do twenty-year-olds see that make them already want to turn back the clock" We know the disdain younger people have for those older; we had it for our elders too. We were the ones who said, "Don’t trust anyone over 30". The younger group has retranslated that into, "Don’t be anyone over 30". Is this a way for them, who see us eating up their financial future, to seek another kind of social security"

There’s always the easy bad-guy target: the media. But the media only mirror back to us what we want. We want eternal youth, so advertisers falsely promise to meet that desire.

But the focus on market externals ignores the fact that the search for youth is not really about looking younger. What Ponce de Leon and those who sought the Grail wanted wasn’t a cosmetic fix but immortality. They wanted to not die.

This may be what’s really behind the lying about age. We’re trying to fool death. Maybe, and we have such a hard time hearing this, our true vitality will come only when we grasp the absolute inevitability of death. Only when we understand that we’re going to die do we ask the crucial questions: What do you want to do with your life" Who do you want to spend your precious time with" Accepting death may be the best secret to living young. My brother taught me this.

A few years ago I watched Larry die, thrashing and kicking his way out of this world and into the next. There were so many things he had wanted to do but his body betrayed his plans. He was furious, and he was 42.

So I do know it’s easier to talk about plastic surgery, Botox, and liposuction than to have conversations about what kind of death would you like, and what your funeral preferences are, but the one fact that we can’t lie about is this: We will die.

No matter what we say our age is, or how many toys we acquire, death is going to tap on the window and say, "Meet me at the door." Maybe what we need to remember is that even though we’ll try to defy age and deny death, ultimately the one who dies with the most toys, dies.

I hold onto the vision of my brother dying for this reason. It is my momento mori, Latin for, "Remember that you must die." Like the human skulls that philosophers once kept on their desks this daily image forces the canonical question: If the end is near –and it’s always nearer than we allow—What do I want"

In past centuries it was our face in the mirror that was our momento mori. Now as we erase the appearance of age with lotions and lasers, we also think that by lying we can change the truth. It’s magical thinking, like looking for a fountain of youth. But no matter what age we claim or how much we deny it, death won’t be fooled by our mortal games.

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