When I first saw him he was walking past my entrance to Southern Oregon University. He had a head scarf over white boy dreads, a tall walking stick and a noticeable hitch in his walk. He moved quickly through a crowd, his head above the rest. He had to be about six foot two.
He had this smile. Sanguine. Serene. I muttered to myself as I clicked the turn signal to pull into campus, “that kid has a Buddha smile.”
I had not seen him before. Then I saw him again. Once in the library, another time outside Stevenson Union, another time sitting on a small concrete wall. He was often working, writing in a small book.
But always that smile with calm, very light eyes. He wore the same jeans, too big and tied with a rope, also rolled up along the bottom to reveal the cause of his hitch–a metal leg.
Each time I saw him he made his way quickly through the crowds. Every now and then he would stop and bow in acknowledgement to a person who approached him but I never saw him speaking with another person. He was always alone and often tucked in where he could stay that way.
It’s like when you buy a certain car and then realize how many others there are. Once you notice something, you see it everywhere. Once I noticed him I saw him everywhere on campus and even some other places in town.
I assumed he was a student at the small liberal arts school at the southern tip of Oregon. I taught a few classes there and it wasn’t long before I knew quite a few students. Teaching journalism, I looked for the writers. I encouraged students to try writing for the campus paper. Vowing to ask him about his major, I planned to approach him next time he popped into view.
Over spring break my chance came. He passed my window and walked under the Southern Oregon University arch across a baseball field sized lawn, past Churchill, one of the oldest and storied buildings on campus said to contain ghosts, past a cute Japanese Maple and out of sight.
“Go! Now!” I thought as I threw on my jacket and kept a brisk pace down the “Comm. Hall”, out through the big glass doors with clanky handles, past the smoking benches and up the hill toward the library. It was open, I figured he was going there. But instead I saw him sitting in a small Zen Garden just behind Churchill.
I had no idea what I’d say to him. But I knew I’d say something. I ducked under a tree branch and stood at the other end of the bench where he sat….