In my front yard is something beautiful. Something living. Something that sometimes reminds me of my mother.
You might not notice this particular something. In fact, most would probably walk by and never truly see it. But trust me, it’s there. It is a tree, about eighty feet tall, with a gnarled trunk, long limbs, and thick waxy leaves.
When we were building our little home, some twenty years ago, a hapless workman with a chainsaw tried to cut this tree down. I rushed to its rescue and stood between his chainsaw and the tree, shouting, “Turn that thing off!”
Later that day I tied a pink nylon ribbon around the trunk, reminding all workmen not to harm this beautiful thing.
On cool mornings I often sit beneath these branches, reading, sipping coffee. This softwood is home to many local creatures like neighborhood cats, squirrels, lizards, butterflies, ladybugs, moths, and 52,349 birds who twitter above me and occasionally drop air-to-surface poop artillery onto my hair.
Don’t get me wrong, this tree is not exceptional looking. Actually, it’s average as trees go. Its bark is peppered with scars, knots, and blotchy steel-colored freckles. Its oval leaves are stiff, the size of a grown man’s hand. The boughs are wild and unruly, like a mother’s arms, reaching for her child.
It’s not especially old, either. This particular tree is pushing 50 years old, although the one in my backyard is closer to 120. Still, many of these tough trees have endured droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, and the devastation of real estate development.
The older ones have lived through eras of war, stock market crashes, the ragtime age, the jazz age, the disco age, and these trees will survive the veritable hell that is the pop country age.
When I look at my tree I am fascinated by its tenacity. I am told that these things are hard to kill. They won’t die as easily as other wood, and they have been this way for eons.
There are about 210 varieties of this particular plant, they are the oldest known flowering species on planet earth. There are fossils of these flowers dating back 100 million years.
This means these plants were alive back when the Tyrannosaurus rex was calling the shots. They saw the Cretaceous period, the Cenozoic Era, they predate horses, canines, all major religions, human civilization, and Keith Richards.
They also predate honey bees. Which is why this tree variety is one of the select trees to rely on beetles for pollination even though, technically, beetles stink at pollination.
Most plants use bees for pollination. Your average honey bee is the college graduate of the pollination business, a sleek professional who gets the job done quickly.
Beetles are more like your uncle Phil, who was supposed to go to the supermarket for toilet paper but got distracted and returned home with a case of Michelob and a paddle-ball toy.
But somehow it works. And it’s been working for a long, long time.
The flowers on this tree are incredible. If you are lucky enough to see my tree bloom in late March or April, it will bless your heart.
The cream-colored blossoms are like a woman’s palms, cupped upward to heaven, waiting for something to fall from the sky. They are simple flowers. Not flashy. Not arrogant. They are meek and elegant.
But they are not dainty. That’s just a trick of the eye. These delicate-looking blossoms are anything but flimsy. They have leathery petals and can endure disagreeable weather better than a Chevy Impala with tire chains and Wisconsin plates. Some trees even bloom in the mid-winter.
And when the sun rises, I sit beneath this tree looking upward into its branches, watching daylight filter through the canopy of chlorophyll-choked foliage. If I stand in the right spot beneath this magnificent plant, it almost looks as though I am inside a chapel of green stained glass windows.
I am impressed by this creature. The tree is steadfast. It is strong. But most of all, it reminds me of people like you.
Yes, you. You’ve been kicked around a lot in your life. You’ve been whipped by people and circumstances that seemed stronger than you were. But they were not stronger. Neither were your problems too great. Your roots are deep, and your stout trunk bears scars that prove you are capable of survival.
But you were built for more than mere endurance. And you prove this each spring when you bloom so prettily, so arrestingly, so proudly, that people sometimes stop just to sigh at you.
That’s your purpose, you see. You were put here to be beautiful. That is your only job in this lifetime. I believe your task in this unforgiving world is to flower under harsh conditions, to be hard to kill, and to do it with graciousness, confidence, and the hardheadedness of a jack mule.
You were made to grow tall, to sway in the wind, to soak in sunlight, and to be the handsomest, hardiest flower in the woods.
So when some fool with a chainsaw arrives and threatens to harm your base, you can openly laugh at your adversaries because you’re protected.
Immediately, you will see a young man running to your rescue, shouting, “Turn that chainsaw off!” This young man will stand between you and your enemy with arms outward to protect your lovely branches.
Then he will tie a pink ribbon around your slender waist because he would rather die than see you fall. Because you are a magnificent magnolia. Just like his mother.