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And as I set off down the mountain—listening with new ears to the old songs, and seeing the shadow of an old Japanese man in the love songs and the ballads about "the few who forgive what you do and the fewer who don’t even care"—I realize that the whole stay has affected me more powerfully than anything I’ve done in years. Why? Mostly, I think, because of a sense of the deep bond between Sasaki and Cohen, and the way neither seems to need anything from the other, yet each allows the other to be deeper than he might be otherwise. "Roshi knows me for who I am," Cohen had said, "and he doesn’t want me to be any other. ‘International Man,’ ‘Culture Man,’ he calls me; he knows I am an ‘International Man.’ " And, by all accounts, he will take everything Cohen brings him—his selfishness, his anger, his ambition, his sins—and, while holding them up to him, accept him.
It’s touching in a way: The man who has been the poet laureate of commitophobes, who has never found in his 63 years a woman he can marry or a home he won’t desert, the connoisseur of betrayal and self-tormenting soul who claimed 25 years ago that he had "torn everyone who reached out for me," and who ended his most recent collection of writings with a prayer for "the precious ones I overthrew for an education in the world"—the man, in fact, who became an international heart-throb while singing "So Long, Marianne" and "That’s No Way to Say Good-bye"—has finally found something he hasn’t abandoned and a love that won’t let him down.
"Roshi said something to me the other day that I like," Cohen tells me just before I leave." ‘ The older you get, the lonelier you become, and the deeper the love that you need.’" For the old and the deep and the lonely, change, it seems, may not be the only aphrodisiac.
Originally published in the September 1998 Shambhala Sun magazine.