The Fountain of Youth: One Way You Can Actually Stay ‘Forever Young’
Written by Tracy on 21 Jan 2014
I’m only 26 years old, but there have already been times in my life when I thought I was done.
Dramatic, I know.
But I have a feeling I’m not alone.
There are a few moments I will never forget.
The day I got caught cheating on an elementary school test. The day my family moved away from my childhood home. The day my first love and I broke up. The day I walked away from the sport I had played my entire life. The day I realized my first job wasn’t my forever job.
We’ve all had moments like this. Moments of transition or distress. During these moments, we get feelings of loss and uncertainty that are undeniable.
What do I do without my intelligence, my home, my love, my sport, or my job?
But the feeling that really brings us to our knees, that tempts us to hang ‘em up for good, the mack-daddy of them all:
This is not just any fear. This is that disgusting, visceral, gut-wrenching fear when we are dealing with the unknown. This fear comes from change we did not anticipate. This fear causes us to examine our lives in the most un-fun-fashion possible.
I discovered this fear at a young age with the aforementioned elementary school test fiasco.
My geography teacher had some sort of Jedi-mind trick that allowed her to put the fear of God in a fourth grader with minimal effort. I can still feel my heart pounding as she paced the room and lectured me on the real meanings of competitiveness and perfectionism. I don’t know if it was my Catholic guilt or her lightsaber-like gaze, but I felt terrible.
I’ll say this much—the consequences of cheating definitely weren’t worth correctly identifying which ocean was the Atlantic, and which was the Pacific.
But I’ll never forget that map. As long as I live!
Seriously, though, moments like these leave us wrestling with so many big questions that it almost seems easier to pack it up and go home.
What happens now? Where do I go from here? Who am I?
Our first, and easiest, answers are always the same.
Nothing. Nowhere. Nobody.
In that order.
I know these answers, because I can still remember the last time I said them to myself.
It was almost exactly three years ago today that I was thinking about giving up completely. I hadn’t quite decided what that looked like, but I knew for absolute certain that I was done trying.
I had moved to this desolate tundra they call Southern Connecticut. It was the dead of winter, and Snowmageddon and Snowpacolypse had just come through town on back to back weekends. I was about four months into my new job, still struggling thirteen hours a day just to catch up to everyone else. I had just ended a long-term relationship and was eating way too much Ben and Jerry’s to compensate. I knew almost no one. And I did almost nothing, besides try to stay warm.
In short, I was miserable.
And for a moment, I thought that terrible thought that we have all thought once before:
This is it. This is my life. This is all that will ever be.
I had that awful feeling that I was sinking. But I wasn’t sinking into water or anything that would take me down quickly. I was sinking into a thick tar that was dead set on dragging out the slow process of my demise. I could feel myself struggling against the weight of it all, sinking a little faster, reaching out for a help, but ultimately getting pulled down into the abyss.
Now before you turn out the lights, turn on Death Cab for Cutie, and get all emo on me, just finish the story.
Believe it or not, this is a happy one.
No dark, tar abyss here.
Because as fate would have it, someone saw me sinking and decided to help. He reached out and snagged me by my little pinky finger—and not a moment too soon. Then he told me a story that is now even more deeply engrained than which ocean is which.
And all this started in the most unlikely of likely places I can imagine.
It’s almost too obvious, but yes, miracles can happen in the house of, well, miracles.
In the midst of my sinking, with my feet struggling against the tar, I went to church for confession. I guess I thought that if I could at least get my conscience clean, then maybe my dirty, tar-covered feet wouldn’t look so bad. Maybe they would even start to weigh less, and I could avoid the abyss completely.
A few years prior, I had committed to making confessions on a monthly basis. Having been no less than 50 times, I can honestly say I’ve heard some of the most interesting comments ever in confessionals.
No, I’m not playing it fast and loose with the word ‘interesting’.
Just hear me out.
I once had a priest in Rome attempt to sell me on Mac’s over PC’s. I had a priest in Mexico suggest and then prove that all my romantic relationships had been slightly misguided. I even had a priest in Dallas try to drill down the entire 10 minute process of confession into 45 seconds.
Not that I really wanted to drag out the process of discussing how awful I’d been, but seriously? 45 seconds?
But on this frigid Saturday afternoon, I found myself absolutely stunned.
I was speaking to a man about a topic that most people would never expect to be associated with religion, let alone a Catholic confession.
I had expressed to him my shit-dire straits, and all he wanted to know what how old I was. I thought that was weird, but no weirder than the Mac versus PC conversation, so I said 23.
Oh, only 23? Because you know, the prefrontal cortex is still finishing its formation at that time. That means you’re now just entering the time in your early adulthood when you have the mental capacity to start tackling these big questions. We used to think this was all done by the age of 18, but it turns out, the brain continues to grow and change well into the early 30’s.
You’re totally normal.
Yes friends, we were talkin’ science!
And all my little post-psychology-degree-earning brain could think was…
Errmahhgawwd… my priest is Bill Nye.
Safe to say, I was freaking out. I had to talk to this guy again. And it was that following conversation that saved me from tar-induced abyss and allowed me to see that there could be life after change.
Father Al was a man whose life had been defined by embracing change.
His life started as simply as any other. He grew up in a small town with a loving family. He dutifully attended school and went on to college. He graduated with a respectable degree and a respectable job.
Soon thereafter the Vietnam War began, and he embraced his first big change.
He was drafted and deployed to the war effort in-country. He spent two years as a fighter pilot stationed in Da Nang. He saw more than a young man would wish to see, but stood bravely by his brothers in arms.
Upon return to the United States, the veterans’ were given a less-than-stellar welcome, and he embraced his second big change.
With very few prospects for work, he finally landed a low-level job with the State Department working with foreign governments. He worked his way up through the ranks and became a well-respected diplomat. During this time he met his soulmate. On their first date, he told her they would eventually be married. Three months later, they were. Thirty-three years later they had four beautiful adult children, each with a family of their own.
That year, they found out she had cancer, and he embraced his third big change.
After his wife died, he vowed to give the rest of his life to God in exchange for the thirty-three years he had with her. He entered the seminary and was ordained a few years later. He settled into a home in Stamford, Connecticut as the resident priest.
But there was still something still nagging, and so he embraced his fourth big change.
He had always felt a passion for counselling, and the urge to bring healing even to those outside his influence at the church. Shortly after being ordained, he went back to college and earned a master’s degree in mental health and counseling. He opened Audette and Associates which specializes in mental health and life coaching.
By the time I met him, Father Al was about to turn 80-years-old. He was a student turned veteran turned diplomat turned husband turned priest turned counselor, and wasn’t about to stop turning. He had lived more lives in 80 years than most people could fathom in multiple lifetimes.
I was nearly 60 years his junior, and he was more vibrant and full of life than I could ever remember feeling.
No tar for this guy, that’s for sure.
He had taken every bad situation in his life and turned it into a positive one.
He taught me that the secret to being forever young (sing it, Rod) was constant reinvention and continual evolution.
Now I know this to be true. It’s not until that second job, that second love, that second passion that you experience your true resilience. It’s not until you embrace change that you can see the light that comes after it. It’s not until you’ve cleared your mind of the fear of the unknown that you can get the tar off your feet.
C.S. Lewis said it and Father Al proved it:
You’re never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
To be 80 and still killin’ it, or 26 for that matter, you have to keep going, keep trying, keep dreaming.
Drink from the real fountain of youth.
To escape the tar, you have to change your answers, because you can be,
Anything. Anywhere. Anybody.
What tar in your life do you feel helpless against? Who do you know that is living proof that there is life after change?
I believe that every greatness we enjoy right now can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.
Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own? Share your story in the comments below.
Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the hearts of others and change the world around us.