The Fountain of Youth: An Eternal Choice

As I continue with posts that focus on eternity, I like to think this story is where Natalie Babbitt’s  Tuck Everlasting meets C.S. Lweis’ The Great Divorce. (And if you are not familiar with C.S. Lewis, I highly recommend becoming acquainted, starting with his book Mere Christianity).

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September 5, 2015

The journey had finally reached its end. Isabel took Michael’s frail hand in hers and slowly guided her cancer-ridden husband to the edge of the stream flowing with water that contained live everlasting. She turned to him and said, “Honey, we’ve finally found it. We will be together forever.”

August 3, 2014

It all began with the annual checkup. The ones you get when you are a child and teenager because your parents make you, stop getting as a young adult because you think you are superman, and then realize when you get a bit older it might not be such a bad idea after all. At age 65 and 63 respectively, Michael and his wife Isabel had been getting these yearly checkups for the last 20 years or so.

And in an odd way, they had come to sort of look forward to and even

take pride in them. For with each visit they had been given a clean bill of health and their doctor would tell them, “You are in amazing health for your age. Whatever is in the water you’re drinking, it’s working!”

But this visit was different. The nurse had stayed gone longer than usual after the blood draw. And then had come back in a second time with the concern written all over her face that her voice tried to hide, “Michael, the doctor would like me to take a couple more vials of blood. Nothing to worry about, just precautionary.”

Then, an even longer wait ensued.  And this time the doctor came in. His expression much more grave than that of the nurse. However, he was a straight shooter and got right to the point. “Michael, I have some concerns about you white blood count. It could be a sign of leukemia. Now, it could also be a variety of other things or nothing at all. But I am going to get you in as soon as I can for bone marrow testing so we can be certain of what is going on.”

August 6, 2014

The bone marrow testing confirmed their worst fears and Michael was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. With the strongest chemotherapy, the best case scenario was a few years to live. “Without the chemo, “ the doctor told them, “we are talking a matter of months.”

Isabel was beside herself. She had been married to this man for 45 years! She had no idea what she would do without him. And what was even worse was it didn’t seem to bother Michael nearly as much as it bothered her.

“I know where I’m going when I die,” he told her. “What better comfort can there be than that?”

At first, he even said that he would forgo the treatments. That all of the extra pain the chemo would bring to extend his life a few months or even a few years just wasn’t worth it. But, eventually he had changed his mind. Not for himself, but out of love for his wife. When he saw how greatly his choice distressed her, Michael decided he would give his wife every moment he possibly could.

August 12, 2015

3 months passed, then 6, then a year. Michael continued on with the treatments, but his body grew weaker and his will grew more tired each day.

“Honey,” he told Isabel shortly after the year anniversary of the diagnosis. I love you with all my heart. But, I just don’t think I can do it any longer. I am so tired. I am ready to go to the Lord. And one blessed day we will be together once more.”

“Don’t talk like that Michael. I need you. I need you to keep going for me. Besides…” She stopped herself and didn’t go on. Could she tell him? Would he think she was crazy?

“Besides what, sweetheart?” he gently prodded.

“Well, what if I told you I think there was a way we could be together forever. Right now. We didn’t have to wait for the next life.”

He chuckled and replied, “I’d tell you I think you’ve been watching too many of those Hallmark channel movies you love so much.”

“I’m being serious, Michael.” She hesitated, then slowly continued.  “A man came to the door the other day. Maxwell Gooden. I went to highschool with Maxwell. We graduated the same year…. Yet, he appeared to be only in mid 20s.”

“Isabel, what are you talking about? Either it wasn’t really Maxwell or he happened to age gracefully. Either way, this is getting to be a bit much.”

“Just listen to me Michael!” She raised her voice in a way that she never had in all the years she had been married to her husband. “He told me things about our high school days that only someone who went to school there at that time would’ve known. Then he showed me his driver’s license and an original Maxwell Gooden birth certificate.

“Now those facts and documentation didn’t convince me, but simply allowed me to let him in the door to tell his story. When he came in he began by telling me he had heard about your unfortunate diagnosis and that he might know of something that could help. Curious, I listened on. He began to talk about a backpacking trip that he took with only his dog for companionship when he was 24 years old. He told me they both drank from a stream of water that tasted unlike anything he had ever tasted before, sweeter somehow, purer.   And since the moment he took the drink, he has not aged at all!

“Now, at this point I cut him off. I told him he was crazy. But he persisted with such conviction I let him go on. He said that after a few years he noticed he wasn’t aging. And that indeed his dog, seemed to be staying a pup as well. At first he wasn’t sure what it was, until he realized the only thing it could be. The only thing that he and the dog would have both consumed was the water from that stream…”

“Really, Isabel…”

But before her husband could protest any further she continued, “I know Michael. At that point I said good day to him and that I had heard quite enough. But then, Michael, then he PROVED IT.” Her voice reached a crescendo at this point and her eyes grew wide as  she recounted this part of the story. “He took a gun from his pocket. I thought he was going to rob me or shoot me, but instead he turned the gun on himself, held it up to his head and fired. And Michael, nothing happened to him.

“And he asked me if knowing where that stream was might be worth something to me. I said of course it was. Michael, I gave him all we had for this!”

She pulled out a map and showed it to him. It was a detailed route through treacherous terrain in the Appalachian Mountains leading to a small stream labeled, “The Fountain of Youth.”

Michael had been furious at first. Furious that Isabel had squandered the money that should have been there to provide for her once he passed. Furious that she would believe such a cockamamie story. But, eventually he softened. He would play along for the moment. “Okay, sweetie. Do you think you could get Maxwell to come back?  To show me his little presentation again. If he will, and it convinces me, then I will go on this trip with you.”

August 13, 2015

The very next day Maxwell walked in the door. Michael did not even give him a chance to speak. “You look here Maxwell, or whoever you are. I don’t want to hear a word out of your mouth. I want to see the gun, inspect it myself and watch you pull the trigger. If it works like my wife said it did, then all is well. But, if this is some sort of trick you will give us back every penny my wife paid you.”

Michael expected to get an earful from Maxwell, but instead all he said was, “Sounds fair,” and handed Michael the gun to inspect.

Indeed the gun and the bullets inside were real. Michael handed the gun back to Maxwell and again he pointed the gun at himself and fired. And again Maxwell stood unharmed.

“Let me see that again,” Michael, snarled. And upon inspection, there was undeniably a bullet missing.

“I may charge a high fee,” Maxwell smiled slyly. “But the product is worth it. You can’t die Mr. O’Hara. You won’ age another day from the moment you drink that water. You and your wife will be able to live in happiness together forever.”

When Maxwell left, Michael and Isabel had another long conversation. Michael insisted it was unnatural. That we were all meant to die. He had asked Isabel, ‘What about heaven? If we never die, how do we ever move onto heaven?’ Isabel had assured him that she was sure God would one day bring up even those who had drank from the stream and that in the meantime, they could be together without ever having to part.

As had been the case throughout most of their marriage, Michael caved in order to please his wife. And they began preparations for the long journey that lay ahead.

August 21, 2015

They had driven as far as the 4-wheel drive jeep could take them. But, eventually they had to leave the jeep and continue on foot. The travel was extremely slow going. Isabel wasn’t as young as she used to be and Michael was in no condition to be hiking through woods and climbing up the side of a mountain.

But onward they pushed; stopping and resting frequently and camping for the night whenever they needed to. As the days passed, Isabel became more excited and more obsessed with the thought of gaining a life with her husband that had no expiration date. Michael, on the other hand, became more and more withdrawn. Isabel simply chalked it up to his deteriorating physical condition and expectantly looked forward to the moment he drank from the stream and his strength would be renewed. What she didn’t know was that internally Michael’s condition was even worth than his external appearance.

He just didn’t know. Could he go through with this? Was life on this Earth forever really what he wanted?

September 5, 2015

After weeks of travel they came past the grove of pines marked on the map and into a small clearing. Just behind the clearing was a mound of rocks. After going around the rocks, which kept the small stream hidden, they stood not fifteen feet from the life giving water.

The journey had finally reached its end. Isabel took Michael’s frail hand in hers and slowly guided her cancer-ridden husband to the edge of the stream flowing with water that contained live everlasting. She turned to him and said, “Honey, we’ve finally found it. We will be together forever.”

Then she heard, just faintly at first, barely audible, her husband reply, “No.”

“What did you say dear?”
This time he spoke firmly, “No.”

“No! What do you mean no?” she shrieked.

“I just can’t do it Isabel. It’s not right. It’s not the way life works. It’s not the way God intended.”

“I’m going to drink and then you will to,” Isabel urged. Assuming her husband would cave to the demand that would please her, as he had so many times throughout their marriage.

Instead he gave his resolved reply, “Isabel, I don’t have the strength in me to stop you. But if you drink from that stream it would be the saddest day of my life. Because soon I will die and be separated from you. As of now, it will only be a brief time in light of eternity. But if you drink from that stream I don’t know if I will ever see you again.”

Thinking she was calling his bluff, she bent down, scooped up a hand full of water and drank deeply. Indeed, it was the sweetest, purest taste she had ever experienced.  She smiled and turned, expecting to see Michael following her lead. But, he was no longer by her side.

When she stood and turned she saw him walking away from the stream! He was nearing the large mound of rocks that kept the stream secluded.  She ran toward him and grabbed him by the arm. “Michael, I drank! You must drink now!”

With tears in his eyes, but without any sign of doubt in his voice, he told her “I told you I am not drinking from that stream and I meant it.”

She grabbed at him once more, desperate to get him back to the stream. This time as Michael pulled away he lost his balance and fell. His head struck a jagged edge on the mound of rocks.

He would not have to wait for the cancer to finish taking its toll.

_ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

March 5, 2450

Isabel sat alone on the thin mattress in her small cabin crying.  After a time people had noticed that she was not aging and that’s when the moving around had begun. First from city to city, then state to state and even to many different countries. Finally she had given up and found a spot deep in the forest where she had lived for well over a hundred years without being discovered.

One day just seemed a depressing copy of the one before. Wait, that wasn’t quite right. Somehow, each day seemed to bring an even greater despair than the one before. With each day came a more profound guilt over the way her husband had died. Over being so short sighted as to drink from that cursed stream.

She mourned that she had brought about such a terrible end to her beloved Michael. She just could not forgive herself…. Although, this was really just selfishness. All the guilt just masking the fact that she was miserable without him. That she was mad that she had drank and he didn’t. For if she would just forget about herself for one moment, and picture where her beloved was now and how he had been transformed the moment he breathed his last…

Instead she wailed on. Lost in her self-pity.

_ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Michael ran, no there must be a better word, strided maybe (if you call effortlessly bounding with the grace of a gazelle and the power of a lion and speed of a cheetah, simply striding) up the one side of the mountain (if you could call a peak that made Mount Everest look like a pile of dirt with colors that made a rainbow look like a drab rainy day a mountain) and down the other. He smiled and laughed (if you could call it that…I guess you are starting to get the picture) with the joy and delight of a child on Christmas morning.

And please do not think of the cancer-ridden body that Michael ended his life with. Nor, even the pristine body he once had as an 18 year old finishing boot camp. For, to see Michael now, you probably would not recognize him…. (How do you describe a body that glows with more luminescence than a solar eclipse without hurting your eyes in the slightest and a beauty that makes the loveliest bouquet look like mere weeds and)…. I might as well not go on for there is just no Earthly language that will do.

Michael has not always shined like the stars or carried himself at such tremendous speeds since entering Heaven. Nor, had his top speed yet to be reached. For, you see, God is continually, for all eternity, transforming those that join him into the most extraordinary creatures; beyond even our wildest imagination.

Now, do not think Michael was hard-hearted. That he did not desire to be with his wife. For with all that was in him, he longed to hold her once more. Yet, this longing was not accompanied by sorrow. Even if Michael had had tried to mourn and cry over not being united with his wife, he could not. For longing in Heaven is not like longing on Earth. There is not sadness in what could have been, should have been. It is longing without regret, without sorrow…again, it hard to explain in Earthly terms.

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