By BILL DUNCAN
The Elder Statesman
Of all the 9/11 stories of a decade since terrorists attacked the United States, one stood out for me as a sign of hope. It was a simple story with a powerful message, written by Phil Gast of CNN about Gee Rittenhouse who was one of those searching in the rubble of the Twin Towers after 9/11 when he noticed something unusual in the pile of dust and debris.
On examination, he found what be believed was an office plant that had fallen in the collapse of the upper floors of the Towers. What was left was merely a ball of roots and twigs. He placed the plant inside a plastic bag, brought it home and planted it in a pot. Miraculously it revived. As the plant grew, it became so special that when his job transferred him to France in 2008 and he could not take the plant with him, he left it in the care of a friend, Jim Donovan, whose tender care of it led to its first blooming, Rittenhouse said.
Now ten years later it is still blooming, Gast wrote, “having risen like a Phoenix from the ashes as a symbol of hope, life and comfort to those who lost loved ones on that fateful day.”
Although the species has not been identified. The photos of the plant show it to be some sort of perennial. The flowers appear to be something like honeysuckle blooms, with a scent of lemony jasmine.
The tenacity of plants to survive against the greatest of odds has always intrigued me. More than 30 years ago I was diagnosed with terminal cancer and frankly told I had three months to live. My wife’s garden club gave her a red rose bush as a remembrance of me, thinking she’d soon become a widow.
That plant survives today, despite the deer trimming it to a mere stick every season when they descend from the hills to sample every morsel on my acreage. Not only has it survived the ravenous deer, but also the man who helps with my gardening who has twice shredded it with a weed eater. These past few days three of the most perfectly formed red roses greet me every time I walked past it as if to say, I survived and so did you. I choose to believe it is my sign of hope.
My youngest son, Jeffrey Michael, a graduate of Roseburg high school, is now a Ph.D college professor of Urban Education. His specialty is training teachers to teach in urban areas. He is an international lecturer on the subject and is currently lecturing in Sweden.
His favorite theme to get the audience’s attention is to use Tupac Shakur’s hip-hop rap poetry “Roses Growing in Concrete,” as a symbol of children growing up in the ghettos of the world and struggling against all odds just to survive. “We might not change the world, but we can spark the mind that does,” he recently told an audience of teachers at Harvard University in a lecture entitled, “Hope required when growing roses in concrete.”
If you doubt the tenacity for plants to grow in the oddest places, don’t look too far. Much of Washington and Oregon is covered with the most tenacious wild plant of all — Himalayan blackberries. If their tenacity isn’t prove enough of survival, think about the lowly dandelion? If there is the tiniest crack in the concrete, a dandelion parachutist will find it, germinate to push up for air, water and sunlight. There is even hope for survival in that disgusting weed.
Rittenhouse has recently returned to the United States from France. He took a cutting from that plant he saved from the debris of the Twin Towers and rooted it in his own garden. To him, it is a symbol of hope as it should be for all of us.
(Bill Duncan can be reached by writing to P.O. Box 812, Roseburg, OR 97470.)