The print that hangs on my study wall is old now, as I am. When I look at it I remember seeing the original painting, Georges Rouault’s “The Old King,” in London in the early 1960s. It was on loan from the Carnegie Museum of Art, part of some big exhibition. The Tate or the National Gallery, I don’t remember which. A crowd of viewers. The friends I was with moved on to other rooms in the gallery. I stood rooted in front of the picture, tears streaming down my face.

I was in my early twenties, new to Europe, overwhelmed by the rich variety of my experiences. Had I seen Chartres then, and wept at the way light from the great rose window shimmered the stone pillars? Possibly. Rouault’s painting remembers stained glass, its blocks of color angular as if scored, snibbed, and bordered in black lead strips. The old king’s bearded face is in profile. An arm, red robed and glowing, holds not a sceptre but a scumbled swirl of pink and white oil paint that could be a flower. The face is sad. Weary of government and pageantry, awaiting death, he contemplates the blossom’s transience.

Last fall my young apple tree was dying. A gopher had gnawed around the root ball. I pressed back the soil as best I could. A few weeks later, fruit stunted and gray leaves shriveled, one branch lifted a defiant fist of delicate pink blossom. The blossom faded. Winter came. Then miraculously this spring, the entire tree blossomed, the flowers the same color as those in the old king’s hand. Petals have fallen now, but tiny apples are forming.

I too grow old, but the cycle of life continues. In San Francisco this week, my niece gave birth to a baby girl as beautiful as apple blossom. A cause for celebration.

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