I remember the first time that I saw a monk and I will likely never forget it. It was June, the weather of San Francisco was warm, but the bay air kept it from becoming too hot. The sun was high, but not blinding, as it was blocked out by lush green trees and the red pagoda that stood tall just a few meters away. Many would say that he was a fake—just someone dressing up, and I shouldn’t hold onto a false memory, but there was a certain energy that he gave off, something that he just seemed to exude, and I knew that he was real. The trail where I encountered him was lined with rock lanterns and benches to rest upon, something I took quick advantage of because I just wanted to relax amidst an atmosphere rarely encountered in the chaos of my life. So, it was easy to spot the brightness of his robes as they stood out amongst the green surroundings. He walked slowly, carefully, and every time someone walked by him, he would bow—or, at least, that’s what it seemed like. I knew that watching him was rude and I shouldn’t have stared, but it was almost impossible to look away.
I stood up before he reached me, and as he passed by, he bowed to me—or toward me—his head low, his palms together. There was a feeling that surged inside me that I doubt I will ever truly understand and I wondered what he thought of me, if I even crossed his mind outside of recognizing my existence. I wondered a lot of things about him—what did he think about as he walked through the gardens? What did he think when he stepped outside and encountered the claustrophobic city after being inside garden—something almost outside of time? Did he, perhaps, stand atop the moon bridge and just breathe, taking in all the scents of the surrounding foliage—the flowers, the trees, the air—as I did? Did he enjoy the kuzumochi or did he refrain from eating such sweets?
He walked on, slowly making his way down the path and out of my life, his bright robes a contrast against the green, and yet he seemed to slowly blend into the garden, as if he were a part of it, too. I’ll never know his name, as he never uttered a word, but his presence spoke more than any language ever could. Perhaps, if I am to be honest, he wasn’t bowing to me. It could have been that he was just bowing, as he always did, and I just interpreted it as what I wanted it to be. I wanted this man—someone who seemed to exude such peace and tranquility as if he embodied the garden he walked through—to acknowledge me, but who was I to want such a thing? Me, a college student whose life was a whirlwind of crazy—of stress and exams, of anxieties—who was I?
Perhaps one day I will encounter him again and I could walk with him through the garden—climb the moon bridge and stand atop it with him, his orange robes like a beacon. Perhaps I will learn his name.
By: Greyson Gardner