My dear, the only way to get to Youth is through Any Port in Storm. There is another entrance, but it requires a very specific young boy and his fairy dust. But if you do happen to run across this boy, or his stubborn shadow, he will tell you in his purely conceited voice that the land of Youth can be reached via the second star to the left, and then straight on ‘til morning. But, darling, since this route only comes through a bizarre chance encounter, there is really no way to give directions. However, kidnapping a rogue shadow that might belong to a mischievous young boy, you have a fair chance of partaking on this voyage.
But, my dear, I have reached Youth another way, a more difficult way, many years ago. I went back after Youth was gone, past my tipping point, after I had ‘turned.’ And once you have turned, there really is only one way to get there. You must travel to the Island Sigh, and spend a considerable amount of time in Waiting. You may catch a glimpse of Youth in Waiting, across the great expanse of the Unknown Ocean, but only if the light is right. Most believe it to be a mirage, a wavering yellow bubble floating at the cusp of the horizon, a lost scarf floating across pearly gray waves.
But I know better. Youth is a fortress, keeping wrinkles and responsibility out, trapping barefoot fairy hunts and sweating lemonade inside the laughing ignorance. Once you find it, you’ll never want to leave. I warn you, my dear, once you arrive you will never want to leave. After Waiting, sailing the Unknown Ocean, being cast up on the Bay of Bellylaughs, the Straits of Sorrow, or finding yourself on the coast of Sigh again, will you perhaps have wandered mapless long enough to find the way into Youth.
With holes in your sails and holes in your boat, my dear, you will suddenly find yourself unable to control the rudder, born along by an undetected current, too strong to break, to unwieldy to challenge. Tall red cliffs will rise before you, as if bursting out of the sea, rising to meet your battered vessel. At first, you will think that you are headed straight for the unyielding sienna expanse. But just as you will begin to wrack your brain trying to remember the Lord’s Prayer, a chasm will appear. And if you throw your whole weight against the rudder, you might make it through.
This chasm will carry you through Surrender and Trust, two impossibly close islands. The channel, so stormy and narrow that to steer would be foolish, will teach you why it lies between two island called Trust and Surrender as the mast breaks, water rushes over the deck and the darkness is so deep, so penetrating, that you will no longer be able to tell if your eyes are open or closed. And suddenly, just as suddenly as it began, it will be over. It is only if you survive these straits that you will find Any Port in Storm, because the channel will carry you gently to the dock.
Now, if you manage to survive this journey of life or seconds, Youth will look unique. For me, Youth had cities like Blizzards and Giggle, which were two of my favorite towns. And forests like What is Hiding Under My Bed lurking just outside of Forehead Kisses and Snuggle Bunnies. The return to Youth is not always bonny and blithe, and As You Like It, but sing hey nonny nonny through the fear and find Spontaneity or Roadtrips once again. However, once you leave, the island will add to your remembered Youth if you ever make it back, because it is a concept that expands to accommodate age. Youth to my, my dear, looks very different than Youth to me. To you, it’s smaller because your Youth encompasses a smaller amount of time.
But I almost forgot! The most essential part of the whole search! Once you stop looking for this land, even for a moment, all gateways close forever. For how to get to Youth without hope? Constant, vigilant, militant, obsessive hope is the only way to spent in Waiting, the failed coastlines, the long, dark voyage through Trust and Surrender without any literal light at the end of the tunnel. It is you who must supply the light with your burning hope – only that light can guide you to Any Port in Storm on the island of Youth.
Amelia Nierenberg, Age 17, Grade 11, The Fieldston School High School, Silver Key