In his declining years, Richard Cohen started to take an interest in flowers. He did not know the names of them or whether they were annuals or perennials, but he was impressed by them, marveling at their beauty and how, even though silly people liked them excessively, they were serious. They were, in fact, among the most serious of all things.
This was because flowers were about spring and in his declining years Richard Cohen seemed to care more and more about spring. He lived in Washington where he wrote a newspaper column and when he was younger he vowed that he would never write about the Washington spring. Back in those days he had wrapped himself in a cocoon of cynicism, and it excluded quite a lot.
But as he got older, spring took on meaning for him. There were so many lessons in it -- lessons about patience and about perspective. The winter sometimes seemed so hard, the cold so killing that nothing could possibly live through it. And yet, despite it all, earlier than you might imagine, little nameless green shoots came out of the ground, only to be followed -- too soon, by Cohen's reckoning -- by flowers. They were yellow flowers.
Richard Cohen had become a runner. This was another thing he had thought he would never be, but he had taken it up and more or less stayed with it. Running is slow when compared to driving or even riding a bike. It gave Richard Cohen time to look at the ground, and since he ran the same route every day he got to know the ground. Everyday it was the same. And then one day came this green thing. From where?
Every day Richard Cohen watched it grow. Some days it did not grow. Some days it seemed to shrink or do nothing and some days it seemed very cold, shivering, and Richard Cohen thought maybe nature had made a mistake. But one day the flowers arrived. They came during the night and in the morning there were flowers. It was the annual miracle.
But people came to pick the flowers. This bothered Richard Cohen very much. He saw himself as the protector of the flowers and he would yell at the people who came to pick them. Richard Cohen ran with a Sony Walkman, an entire symphony orchestra -- strings, brass and the whole works -- sitting right in his ear, and so when Cohen talked he yelled and when he yelled he really yelled. He would come upon someone picking flowers and yell, "WHY ARE YOU PICKING MY FLOWERS?" This was always startling to the flower-pickers. "THEY ARE ALL OUR FLOWERS. THEY ARE YOUR FLOWERS AND MY FLOWERS AND IF EVERYONE PICKS THEM THERE WON'T BE ANY FLOWERS."
Richard Cohen sometimes ran at night. One night he saw a dark figure, a man-woman who was young-old and friendly-hostile, squatting on the side of the hill, snipping flowers. It had a bag and scissors and was walking in a squatting position like a strange animal. Richard Cohen considered charging up the hill and yelling his Walkman yell at the flower snipper, but he got scared, thinking that this snipper could be big and might fight and, besides, was armed with scissors.
Richard Cohen did not know what to do. You can not let the bullies of the world get their way. On the other hand (there is always an on the other hand for Richard Cohen), soon the flowers would be gone anyway and it did not make sense -- did it? -- to fight over something that was going to die in a day or two.
So Richard Cohen ran on and the next day, when he looked up the hill, there was a bald spot, a place where winter had returned. He thought then of the snipper as a Visigoth, a barbarian, as someone who had come and looted the beauty that was everyone's, and he was sorry that he had not yelled his Walkman yell and maybe feigned a charge up the hill. That might have been enough.
Now the yellow flowers are almost gone anyway, but Richard Cohen is not. Next year, when the time comes for the yellow flowers, he will go out at night, seek the flower snipper, and yell his Walkman yell. This is because in his declining years Richard Cohen came to care very much about flowers. And the more he cared, the more he knew that he was not, in ways that really mattered, declining.