Courage in old age

A lush tecomanthe hedge shooting out vigorous tendrils in search of a drainpipe to climb.
This mighty tecomanthe plant has the courage of a nonagenarian

I’m working on the script for The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People and thinking about the courage of the nonagenarian characters. I’m seeing echoes of their bravery in our mighty tecomanthe hedge. (And of their longevity.)

The photo above shows long, vigorous tendrils leaping out from the solid bulk of the hedge. (Half a kilometer away, a similar plant has leapt up to the roof of a two-storey villa.)

Those tendrils are doing what a tecomanthe plant does best: grow and explore and aim for the sky. Three weeks ago I pruned it by clipping off those amazing new tendrils and I saved two or three tips for a vase. Here’s how they looked after a couple of days. One had snaked upwards through the loop of a blind cord, and the other two were drooping downwards.

Photo of a small blue glass vase with three long tendrils in water. One twists upwards, the other two are drooping.
Two tendrils in a glass vase just droop. The other bravely starts exploring.

More than three weeks later, two of the three tendrils are still very much alive and actively exploring. I’m inspired! Cut from their tree, without soil or sunshine, they continue to behave like energetic young creatures. In a person, this takes courage and optimism.

Two tecomanthe tendrils twisting upwards from a tiny spotted vase. Beside them, an electric cord imitates the shapes of the tendrils.
Still green and growing! These tendrils refuse to lie down and die.

Why these cut tendrils remind me of the courageous characters in my play

  • They’re experimenting and exploring and reaching out
  • They’re in a tiny place but not trapped there
  • They’re relating to each other and to the electric cord beside them
  • They are creating something playful and beautiful
  • They’re fully engaged in a purposeful activity
  • They’re making the most of the final part of their lives
  • They’re still green and growing
  • They are making me feel happy.

I know I’m stretching anthropomorphism to the limit, but hey, I’m a poet.

As long as we’re green, we’re growing

Doris Carnevali in her blog frequently shared her amazement that she was still green and growing in her late nineties. In fact her tagline is, “As long as we’re green, we’re growing.” These curling, stretching tendrils expand my understanding of what this means.

The extremely old people in my play are not afraid to try new things. This is brave, because advanced old age brings a never-ending stream of changes to body, mind, and circumstances. But the rewards are tremendous.

Theatre against ageism

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18 thoughts on “Courage in old age

  1. A very fine analogy

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s a stretch!

  2. Sadje says:

    An amazing plant. I have an aunt who has turned 90 in February. Would you say sheโ€™s old or extremely old?

  3. Hooray for the tendrils and your taking inspiration from them!

  4. Cathy Cade says:

    As I just read on a Quora response… growing old isn’t for the faint-hearted.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Perhaps we should rephrase that more positively: growing old is for the brave.

  5. Such a lovely metaphor, those wandering tendrils and your gorgeous look at life, always anew.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You are a wandering tendrils, Maggie. That’s a lovely word, isn’t it?

  6. judibwriting says:

    I have an 103 year old neighbor two doors down from me and I would say green and growing (albeit more falling asleep in between the reachings out) describes him perfectly.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Great to hear this. Thank you.

  7. Call me late to the party, but I didn’t realize your play will be opening in November of this year. Fantastic! I caught up on all the related blog post articles and wow! Will it be recorded for youtube? Can we ZOOM link to see it? Those of us (ME) across the many oceans would love to be able to see the fruit of the ’90 Plus Group’s’ labor of love.
    BTW: love, love, love your head shot in your bio of the group behind the play.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Oh you’re not late, Laura: november is a long way away (thank goodness). No, it’s a stage play, not made for Zoom or video. On the other hand, there’s nothing to stop your local theatre from producing it one day. And I will pass on your appreciation to my photographer friend — thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Regardless of the main point of this post I love the artistic tracery of the tendrils, cables, and their shadows!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So glad you see the beauty there as I do!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    The vine is new to me but I love it for the analogy. I am amazed at people who are content to rust in place instead of growing.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      To quote Judge John Hodgson, “people like what they like and you can’t make them like what you like!”

  10. Suzanne says:

    A few of my basketball team would whole heartily agree with you, Rachel. Hope the play script is going to plan.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Haha! I’m glad to hear that. Yes, there is more happening with the play script with a key meeting this very afternoon.

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