I don’t get excited about flowers and I don’t know a whole lot about trees. But I do know that I love magnolias. When I was an undergrad at Michigan State University, I was enamored by the magnolia trees around campus. Growing up in the middle of Chicago, I don’t know that I’d ever seen a real magnolia tree before. Seeing them on campus, though, always brought me joy. The flowers were just so beautiful.
Within the last few years, magnolias have taken on much more meaning in my life. My fascination with magnolias intensified when I discovered the music of Jason Isbell. One of his most eloquently written songs, and one of my all-time favorites, is called “Cover Me Up”. Jason wrote the song for his now-wife, Amanda Shires, to tell her, “This is how much I love you.” A few of the most memorable lines of the song go like this:
“So girl, leave your boots by the bed / We ain’t leaving this room / Til someone needs medical help / Or the magnolias bloom”
The very first time I heard those words I was utterly floored. I was paralyzed by the passion and the raw love that he was expressing for his wife. I thought to myself, “How I wish for someone to feel this same way about me…” That was when the magnolia tree took on a deeper meaning for me. I yearned to love someone like that, someone who didn’t want to leave my side until the magnolias bloomed.
I have since found someone who feels the same way about me as Jason does in “Cover Me Up”. His name is Tom and he lives in Wisconsin. The best part is, I feel the exact same way about him. What makes our relationship even more meaningful is that he and I met because of the music of Jason Isbell. “Cover Me Up” has kind of become “our” song. These last several weeks spent in quarantine without being able to see Tom, I can’t even listen to “Cover Me Up” without being moved to tears. And not just casual tears. I’m talking full-on, ugly snot-crying tears.
There is a lovely park across the street from my home with foot and bike paths, a pond where ducks and geese live, and this solitary magnolia tree. I have been so grateful for this park as a place where the kids and I can spend time outdoors during quarantine. A few weeks ago, I realized the magnolias were blooming. At first, my heart was aflutter. Soon, that elation turned to sadness as I was reminded of how much time Tom and I have spent apart. Every time the kids and I visit the park now, I stop under the tree, close my eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine Tom standing next to me.
I recorded these thoughts today in the Notes app on my iPhone as the kids rode their bikes around the park. It was just supposed to be an ode to a little magnolia tree. What it’s turned into, however, is an intertwining tale of love, nature, and music – all of which have become so vital to me during this extended period of isolation. I miss Tom terribly. I would love for nothing more than to leave my boots by the bed and not leave the room with him. Until then, I’ve got the magnolias to keep Tom close.