I drank from the fountain of youth the other day. I mean that almost but not quite literally. What really happened is that I spent an hour of pure bliss at the King Fountain in Millennium Park in Chicago. It was the most amazing fountain I’ve ever been to. A shallow pool of water flows on a granite floor between two impressive glass towers that are lit up and have showers cascading down their sides. On the front of the towers are projection screens that have rotating images of faces of various ages and races. Periodically spurts of water gush from the lips of those faces.
What made the atmosphere of the fountain so enchanting was the people in it. The vast majority of those people were children. Some were boys, some were girls. Some were in diapers, others were approaching adolescence. Some had light skin, others had dark skin. They splashed and frolicked through the fountain. smiling, laughing, holding hands and shouting with glee. Most of the few adults who entered the fountain were standing still keeping a stern eye on their children but there was one adult splashing through the fountain with as much joy and exuberance as the children. That adult was me.
I am someone who looks much younger than my actual age and in some respects I act much younger than my actual age. In some ways my life situation resembles the typical life situation of a child. People often express shock and disbelief that I’m as old as I am. When they say they’re shocked by my age because of how young I look, it’s usually meant either neutrally or as a compliment. While I imagine there will come a time in my life when I’m delighted to look 15 years younger than I am, at this point I find it humiliating to be mistaken for an adolescent. When people tell me I’m like a child or an adolescent because of the way I live or behave, it’s almost always meant as an insult.
When I’m told that I’m childlike or I think about how much my life resembles that of a child’s, I’m usually filled with shame and sadness. I can’t really be blamed for having a youthful appearance but living and behaving like a child when I’m an adult mostly feels like a character flaw and a bad choice. I mostly feel inferior to all those adult-like adults, as though they’re living their lives the right way and I’m living my life the wrong way.
My constant need for movement and sensory stimulation has been another source of shame and humiliation in my life, another thing that has me feeling like I’m different from everyone else in a bad way. When I go out in public it gets me stares of disapproval and inquiries of concern.
Yet experiences like the one I had at the fountain remind me that it’s not all bad. I’m also childlike in good ways. Being so childlike as an adult has left me feeling depressed and alienated, like I’m missing out on some of the best things life has to offer. However, it also gives me an enhanced capacity for joy and wonder, an enhanced ability to live in the moment and appreciate the little things in life. My hyposensitive nervous system and my resulting need for constant movement and stimulation has been a source of embarrassment but it’s also given me a heightened sense of pleasure from sensory experiences.
I could have stayed at the fountain all day and not gotten tired of it. Sometimes when I’m engaged in pleasant activities my mind drifts to unrelated unpleasant thoughts but for the vast majority of the time I was frolicking through the fountain, feeling the water flowing over my feet, seeing the streams cascade down the walls and hearing the children shout with glee, my prevailing thought was “Wow, this fountain is awesome.”
Most adults wouldn’t frolic in the fountain because of messages they’ve gotten that say that’s not something adults do, because they’d be afraid of what it would make others think of them. They wouldn’t immerse themselves in a shower of water because they wouldn’t want to get their clothes wet. On that day in the fountain I had no such inhibitions.
On that day at the the fountain there may have been people giving me looks of bafflement, disapproval or concern but if there were I didn’t notice them and if I had noticed them, I wouldn’t have cared. There may have been people who upon observing me decided there was something “not quite right” about me and they may have felt sorry for me but in that moment they were not the ones who should have felt sorry for me. In that moment I was the one who should be feeling sorry for them. In that moment they were missing out on a wonderful experience that I was having.