Melting Steel Magnolias

There’s a magnolia tree I pass on my evening walks that you can smell from half a block away. The other night I tip-toed up to the low hanging branches to savor the fragrance. The leaves were heavy from afternoon thunderstorms. I pulled my phone out to take a picture of a saturated bloom, hunting for a postcard worthy image–the mascot of southern charm, a large blossom with curled ivory petals dusted by rain drops. But the only thing I could find were completely unfurled blooms, sagging and bruised under the weight of the rain.

Magnolia from my neighbors tree

Magnolia from my neighbor’s tree

I thought about those flowers for the rest of my walk. Magnolia trees are common here and several on my route are blooming now. None of the others smell as heavenly as that first tree, even with the humid summer air. The open blossoms set it apart, filling the air with its fragrance. By fully opening its petals the tree gained in attraction what it lost in beauty. Rather than just observe it from a distance I was drawn in by the intoxicating fragrance to bury my nose in the blooms and drink deeply.

If I were that tree, I would want steel magnolias, the picture of perpetual perfection. I could see myself telling the buds to stay closed, straining to keep my petals from unfurling too far. As a woman, the threat of fading beauty scares me. In the timeless words of Ms. Truvy, “Time marches on and eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your face.”  But that tree taught me something about surrender. It’s not afraid to trade one kind of beauty for another. It’s blooms fall open without fear that they will be the last. They offer their beauty and then their fragrance, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, because it is.

The word “open” has been a theme for me this week. In poetry, long phone calls, on my evening walks and in emails. I think it’s called “synchronicity” but I call it love notes from the Lover of my Soul. One of them came in an email from a friend with a Brene’ Brown quote.

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection… true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

A magnolia tree convicted me to be open, vulnerable, seen and known. I hide the imperfect parts far too often from those who would most benefit from knowing I am human. Some might smile or click the “like” button from a distance when I share the lovely parts of my life, but the magnolia challenged me to melt the steel, and dare to let my imperfections be seen. It dared me to draw people in, to connect, to drink deeply together of the incense of openness.

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