The magnolia trees were bare when I returned from Greenville. I’d snapped only one picture, planning to take more when the lighting was right and the trash cans didn’t line the curb.
My first thought was one of disappointment. Did they really only bloom for a couple of weeks? The second was one of disillusionment. How could the magnolias return us to the barren state of winter? The third was one of regret. Why had I waited to take more photographs instead of seizing the moment as it was, perfectly imperfect after all?
I suppose if I had known the reality of a magnolia’s bloom cycle before I left town, I would have acted more intentionally. But I didn’t know. As they say, hindsight is twenty-twenty. Is that two two-syllable numbers or one four-syllable word? If the latter, I should write it in number form. One of the reasons I cherish the English language is because of the rules that dominate it. There are rarely gray areas, as the movement from Old to Middle to Modern English brought with it exception clauses for every linguistic debate it could anticipate.
Nevertheless, the movement could not anticipate the lackadaisical attitude of the average human towards grammatical correctness. In disputes over the usage of later verses the text message abbreviation l8r, many Americans argue that as long as the abbreviation doesn’t interfere with understandability, the alternate spelling is acceptable. The shift to Early Modern English in the 1500s could not have anticipated the emergence of mobile devices that would necessitate such abbreviations five hundred years later.
I prefer traditional spellings just as I prefer routines and predictability. Just when I was beginning to incorporate magnolia-gazing into my homecoming routine each evening, the pink blossoms disappeared. I could not have anticipated their short blooming season. I would have preferred they stay in full bloom all year long, in which case I would have had ample time to enjoy their beauty.
But then I wouldn’t have needed the photographs.
As yearbook advisor (ignoring the debate over advisor verses adviser usage), it is my responsibility to ensure that my staff captures the memories of the year to preserve them for ages to come. Now beyond my own ten year reunion, I can appreciate the value of quality photographs that made still-frames of some of my own best years. I teach my students that anticipation is at the heart of photojournalism. Having spent many years behind the camera myself, I wonder now if my inclination is more to preserve memories than to participate in those moments being captured.
The fact that I waited to take more pictures of my magnolias evidences proper training in photo composition, and the fact that I missed out on the opportunity evidences a failure to anticipate. What concerns me is that rather than preserve the grandeur of the trees, I opted to hold out for a perfect moment that never came… as I’ve done for the majority of my life.
I was featured in a photograph for “Most Flirtatious” in the senior superlative section of my own yearbook. While some might have mistaken friendliness with the opposite sex as flirtation, honesty demands an admission that I was always on the hunt for my happily-ever-after with my knight in shining armor. My first years of college echoed that search as I was confident I’d earn my MRS simultaneously with my BA. While my friends in high school and college were building life-long friendships through sleepovers, make-over parties, and girls nights out, I was always primping for, pining after, writing about, or going out with my current Mr. Right for Right Now.
And since hindsight is twenty-twenty (or 20-20), I realize that I missed out on making lasting friendships because I was dreaming of my perfect future. Somehow, I was convinced that life started after college when I was married and had a family of my own. I wasn’t contented to gossip in the dorms with my roommates when my husband was out there somewhere beyond its walls. Admittedly, my commitment to the premises of Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye lasted all of two months.
Honest soul searching reveals that even after years of disillusionment in loves lost and a marriage failed, the false belief that life hasn’t started yet still owns me.
Pulling into my driveway tonight, my first realization was that in a week’s time ignored, my magnolias now boast lush green leaves. The second was that the bushes in front of my porch have bright purplish-pink flowers. The third was that between bushes, I have purple irises. My beloved pink magnolia blossoms might be gone, but Spring has seen fit to bless me with three new vegetative darlings in their place.
I can regret the skipped friendships and photographs, the present moments overlooked while I was waiting for my perfect future moment. I can continue in counterfeit existence, navigating through days with the phony notion that life has not yet begun. I can cling to predictability, routine, and grammatical correctness.
But those “cans” cannot anticipate what emerges from the changes in the natural ebb and flow that pushes life forward. They cannot offer a suitable substitute for the delights of carpe diem that undermine disappointment, disillusionment, and regret. They cannot see the purple irises that will come l8r.