In my recent peregrinations on the East Coast of the U.S., I came across this sign.
It struck me as funny. Because in the multitudes of delightful flowering gardens both public and private in Paris, I never saw signs admonishing passersby not to pick flowers. I guess it's simply understood: if the beauty of the landscape is there for all to admire, you just don't snap off a blossom to take home for your personal use.
Which brings me to a delicate confession. Perhaps an analogy? Or just a story.
A few years ago a Certain College Student Who Shall Remain Nameless had come home to Paris on summer break, with one of his pals from school. One morning, after the gents had spent the previous evening acquainting themselves with Parisian nightlife, I found near their sleeping quarters an exquisite, huge rose. Pale salmon, petals edged with deep pink. A prizewinning bloom.
When they finally awoke, I asked about the rose.
"Um, I don't remember exactly where we got it," said my darling miscreant. "I think it was some garden near the Eiffel Tower."
Aghast. I was aghast. But I held my composure. "Sweetie, I said, "there are so many gorgeous flowers growing all over Paris. No one picks the flowers. It's just not done."
"But it was in a spot where no one would really notice," he said. "I didn't think anyone would mind. It was just one flower, and it smelled great!"
"I know," I replied. "But that's not the point. I don't even need to say the classic 'if everyone did this' what the consequences would be. The point is that someone else -- whether a professional gardener or some little old lady -- spent a lot of time cultivating that rose. It belongs to that person, who lovingly grew that flower so that the the rest of the world could enjoy it."
"So," I concluded my sermon, "I know you won't ever EVER do this again. But if some time you lose your senses and commit such an egregious mistake again, please do me one favor."
"Okay," he said. He seemed genuinely contrite.
"Please promise me that if someone ever catches you in the unforgivable act of snatching a flower from a garden, you'll make up a really convincing Parisian-style story. Fabricate a clever story and tell them you simply had to have it to win the heart of a beautiful girl you were in love with. Anything. Just don't try to defend your right to take a flower because you thought no one would notice or care."
I turned and walked away to fix some coffee, shaking my head at how much I'd learned in Paris.
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