The Fountain of Youth

December 10, 2014

So many times in a person’s life, we think if we had it to do over again, we would have done it differently. But, would we have?

Dr. Heideggar’s Experiment, a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, explores the premise that, given the opportunity to roll back the years and become better humans, we would not do so. As we were in our youth, we would revert to type and repeat our mistakes, not having learned a single thing.

Dr. Heideggar is an eccentric old man who invites his four elderly friends to his house and asks them to help him with an experiment. He tells them that his friend from Florida sent him an elixir from the Fountain of Youth and shows them a rose that is fifty-five years old. He puts the dead rose in a vase and pours this elixir over it. The rose quickly regains its color and looks as though it has just bloomed.

Dr. Heideggar pours the elixir into four champagne glasses and tells his friends to drink it but to remember the lessons they learned from their youth, and not to make the same mistakes when they regain their youth. The friends agree. And, shortly, they all regain their youth.

The politician starts spouting the same kinds of rhetoric that he had in his youth; the merchant is preoccupied with money matters; the friend who wasted his youth living a wild life starts belting out drinking songs, and the widow runs to the large mirror to verify that she has regained the beauty of her youth.

The three men fight over the widow and the vase is knocked to the floor where it shatters and spills the elixir across the floor. Dr. Heideggar notes that the four friends have learned nothing from their first youth and are repeating the same mistakes.

I’ve thought of that story many times through the years and if I had the opportunity to be young again, given the same set of circumstances, I would probably make the same decisions I made then.

The knowledge that I gained from those experiences has made me into the person I am today and, it’s because of that, that I have finally been allowed to see that my life has a purpose, a destiny pattern. I like who I have become and I like the path I have chosen to walk. I wouldn’t trade my present life for another chance at youth.

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