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Issue of October 15, 2014

A hope note
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A hope note
Dr. Wayne Willis reflects on life and hope.

A birthday wish

September 05, 2012 | 09:57 AM

Today I enter a new era, having attained the Biblical "three score and ten." Here's hoping I'll discover a smidgen of truth in Browning's claim that this new frontier will be "the last of life for which the first was made."

"Late bloomers" inspire me. Grandma Moses, forced into retirement from her embroidery job because of arthritis, began painting in her late 70s and continued painting into her 90s. Frank McCourt didn't publish his first book, "Angela's Ashes," that won a Pulitzer Prize, until he was 66. Colonel Sanders didn't start franchising his fried chicken until he was 66. Roget invented the thesaurus at age 73.

Last month I found inspiration not in a person, but in, of all places, a plant. For 12 years our family has gone to the same South Carolina beach the second week in July. There was a gorgeous, stately plant outside our condominium, about eight feet wide and tall, that served as a favorite backdrop for family pictures, until this year. This year the magnificent plant's leaves were curling up and browning. It was dying of old age.

According to the resort, the plant was at least 31 years old. The good news for us was that we got to see what "the century plant" does only once in its lifetime, just before it dies. It puts forth a huge stalk, thick and hard as a small tree trunk, that grows at the rate of six inches a day. Atop this 30-foot-tall "mast" was a cauliflower-like, bigger-than-a-basketball bouquet of hundreds of little white flowers.

This birthday, my one wish is to defy Eliot's pessimistic prediction that "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper."

Approaching my final frontier, I hope, like the century plant, to hoist some flowers.

Dr. Wayne Willis


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