Friday, October 10, 2014

The Plant That Wouldn't Die

I've been staring at the plant in front of a window in my dining room. That plant is supposed to be dead. I know. I killed it.

We had been together for over twenty years. I bought it when I moved back to Albany. For years it flourished on a table in front of my terrace doors where it had full afternoon light. It was a tropical plant that needed dry soil and craved the warmth. I ignored it and it grew. Finally, I realized I should put a stake in the pot to help it stay upright. By then it was too late. Even with the stake, it forever after curved to the right. But it kept growing, losing only a few leaves when summer turned to fall and the light changed.

And then we moved. Three years ago, we moved into a house. I carried the plant – now huge – in my car rather than send it the few miles to our new home in the moving van. As we settled in, I found it the only spot that received enough sunlight to avoid a shock to its system. I put it on a table in a corner in the dining room, in front of a window.

But summer came and I needed to install an air conditioner in that window. I moved the plant each day, out of the blast of cold air. The plant adjusted, losing only a few leaves. Adjusted to the movement back and forth in the summer, adjusted to the shallow sunlight of winter, adjusted to having that blind pulled down when I went away.

For three years, the plant adjusted. Until its roots were too crowded in its big pot. Until the sunlight through the window wasn't enough. Until I tried to help by giving it water and plant food. And then it begin to die. The twisted branches dried up. Each morning more leaves were on the floor by the table. Until finally, the branches were almost bare. Except for one tiny cluster of leaves that had sprouted as the rest of the plant was dying – that seemed not to have gotten the memo that it was supposed to be dead.

But I had. My plant was dead. After more than twenty years, I had finally managed to kill this plant that ignored my lack of a green thumb when lesser plants fell by the wayside. I told myself that maybe it had simply been old and tired and ready to die. I picked up the pot to dump it into a garbage bag to go outside with the trash. But at the last moment, I broke off that cluster of green leaves – and stuck it into a paper cup half-filled with water.

The plant went out in the garbage. And I waited for that cluster of leaves to die, too. A plant that hated water couldn't possibly root in a paper cup on a kitchen window sill.

But it did. Root strands began to appear. I watched and added more water now and then. . . and begin to think it might actually live. Finally the roots seemed long enough. I moved the cluster of leaves to a pot – I planted it in soil. My plant that should have been dead had come back to life. I watched it begin to grow.

And then I thought the soil looked too dry for the roots to be taking hold. And I watered it. And the leaves began to curl and turn brown.

Now, the plant is sitting in its pot by the window. The blind is up. It is getting sunlight. The leaves that curled brown at the edges I have not fallen off. Another cluster of green leaves is growing from the center. I am witnessing the miracle of the plant that would not die.

Of course, as a writer, I'm compelled to look for a lesson here. A lesson about life and death. When that plant begin to die, I felt not only sadness but awareness that we had both been a lot younger twenty-four years ago. When that cluster of leaves appeared in the midst of death, I was reminded of the phoenix in all of us. I was also reminded about the heroes that I love in real life and in fiction. The ones who are strong, who find a way to hold on, who will not curl up and give up. I think I'm going to give Hannah McCabe, my cop protagonist, a plant.

P.S. I would have included a photo of Exhibit A for this post. Unfortunately my laptop is in the shop and this computer won't allow me to load the photo. My plant will appear in my next post – whatever I'm writing about.

1 comment:

Eileen Goudge said...

I definitely think there's a parable here. Maybe also about the tenacity of writers? I sometimes feel my creative muse is the plant that wouldn't die. Good luck with your sprout.