Note: This was written in Week Seven of our COVID quarantine.
Steel Magnolias Breathtaking, Delicate beauty Of Creamy Perfection With Roots Running Deep In Southern Soil A History Almost As Old as Time And Endurance As Tough as Steel* Patricia Neely-Dorsey
Breathtaking Delicate Beauty
Lively flower beds of petunias and snap dragons brighten my walk. Like pallets of paint, they blend and swirl in the cool morning breeze. Lavender and gray streaks laying low on the horizon block a cresting sun.
I walk on. Then something catches my eye. I stop to admire a magnolia tree now in bloom. This gem has no equal. Unlike ground level flowers that giggle and wave for attention, the solitary magnolia is perched up high and too sophisticated to be governed by the wind. With edges that blush pink, these white jewels adorn the outer evergreen branches, looking like Christmas tree ornaments placed by hand.
Lifted out of the lavender haze, the sun, now a fireball of light, illuminates each flower to an iridescent porcelain. The full bloom is like an open hand, inviting me closer where I get a hint of fragrant lemony citrus. I sense there is more to discover than her unmatched beauty.
The southern magnolia tree is a symbol of enduring strength and longevity. With an intricate root system that deeply anchors her to the earth, this tree is one of the most successful of plants. She is an old soul, as old as time, native to a young earth, surviving ions of geological and environmental changes. Little wonder that the magnolia is an inspiration to poets and writers.
Another favorite movie of mine is Steel Magnolias. Adapted from a play by Robert Harling and based on a true events, the story is about the lives of five unique women whose friendship grows into a deeply rooted tour-de-force. Their lives are interwoven threads, supporting each other with humor and love. When faced with a tragic loss they grieve together, then regroup, finding the strength to carry on.
A memorable line is spoken by the cantankerous but lovable Ouiser, (short for Louisa) who insists that she is not crazy; she has just been in a bad mood for 40 years! Ouiser’s support system, her steel magnolias will not allow her to sink into moody despair and self-pity. She learns to laugh at herself. Here in the land of distanced relationships, I have my Ouiser moments, too in this pandemic. And, like her, I have my lovable network of empowered women, my steel magnolias: Sandy, Carol, my Aunt Helen and Lauren. I lean on them for humor, comfort, wisdom, and strength. Distance does not separate us. Our lives are interwoven threads of the same story.
With Roots Running Deep: A System of Thick Relationships
Steel Magnolias is a sometimes light, sometimes dramatic narrative of a tight-knit community of friends. We see ourselves and our relationships mirrored in this story. In his bestseller, The Second Mountain, David Brooks describes community as thick systems of relationships. We are social beings. Our need for connection is in our DNA. You might be as surprised as I was, to learn that strong interconnected relationships also occur deep underground in the plant world.
What I am about to explain boggles my mind. Eons before Google, Twitter and Facebook, a complex system of communication traveling throughout the plant world evolved. Known as mycelium, botanists affectionately refer to this underground fungal network as the “wood-wide” web. Not unlike our friends in Steel Magnolias, when trouble brews, plants sense it and they help each other.
Nature’s 911 Call: When plants signal stress, their neighbors secrete substances that travel up from their roots to above ground branches and leaves to ward off nibbling invaders. They can even create conditions that attract the natural enemies of the invaders. And this: if a tree limb is suddenly severed, scientists say that the “ouch” is transmitted to the network resulting in nourishing minerals sent by the collective. This remarkable network is so interrelated that if we could peer down so deep below the ground upon which we walk, one plant system would be indistinguishable from the other. **
This is nature’s magnificent collective, an organic force, as old as life itself.
A History Almost as Old as Time
All life is connected. Interdependent, we laugh and cry together. Your story is my story. I think back to the time before we became a mobile society, when family and friends gathered around the kitchen table and told stories. Like the magnolia, a symbol of endurance, our stories sustained each other. I think of the bible stories told to me in my growing up years. Parables spoken by Jesus delivered messages of mercy and love. The powerful simplicity of those stories coupled with his life here on earth cuts through the distractions and like the magnolias, they steel my heart, welcoming me into the collective of souls and saints, like an open hand ungoverned by the winds.
To teach forgiveness, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
To teach mercy, “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
To teach faith, “Ask and the door will open.”
To teach about love, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
To give purpose, “Follow me.”
To teach compassion, “When you do it for the least of them, you do it for me.”
When asked who is my neighbor, he tells the parable of the good Samaritan, a lowly person of undesirable culture and religion who becomes our model for compassion.
So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Romans 12:5