I forgot the ketchup, so I’ve maneuvered back through the pack (or is it flock?) of hungry vegans to retrieve the one item that could prevent me from hating my meal. Then, prized condiment in hand, I make my way back to my seat and am jolted out of my state of agitation by the gentleman coming towards me. I do a double-take. He’s a monk. Like, a real monk with a bald head and saffron robes. What is he doing here? Granted it’s the only vegan restaurant in town, but what’s he doing way the heck up here in the middle of northern Ontario?
Okay, I’ve stared too long and now the monk is looking at me. He smiles. Of course he does, he’s a monk.
Wait, are monks allowed to smile? Have I just inspired him to break his vow of modest eye contact and nondescript facial expressions?
Yes, I am aware that my small-town ignorance knows no bounds. I gather myself and politely smile back. I miraculously prevent myself from bowing at his feet and rush back to my table.
Collapsing into my seat, I exhale the breath I’ve been holding since seeing the monk. I turn to my friend. “Did you see the monk?”
“Yeah,” she answers, “that’s weird, right?”
“Totally. What do you think he’s doing here?”
“He’s probably having lunch with the thousands of hipsters who’ve read about this place.”
“I’m not sure I’d group monks in with hipsters. Maybe there’s a monk convention nearby, though maybe it’s not called a convention.”
As we eat, I can’t help but steal glances at my monk. I have now laid claim to him and am referring to him as “my monk.” He doesn’t seem to have a handler with him. Shouldn’t someone be protecting him? Who knows what crazies are lurking about, waiting to prey on an innocent monk?
Lunch is finished, ketchup was much appreciated, though I must admit I am warming to the plant-based food offerings at this place. My monk is still eating, and my curiosity won’t let me leave without whetting it a bit.
“I’m going to hang out for a little while longer,” I say to my friend. “You go ahead.”
She glances at me and then to my monk, rolls her eyes and leaves.
To be clear, I haven’t acted like this before upon seeing a priest or a rabbi. I’m not exactly sure why I’m acting like a crazed fan-girl. There’s just something uplifting about being in this monk’s company which for me is so unexpected.
He’s on the move. Now, do I follow him? It seems the answer is yes, as my body is unconsciously propelled up and out the door behind him. He turns left towards the river. I watch his slow, purposeful gait as he makes his way off the main drag and down to the riverside. I cautiously begin after him. He’s holding a brown paper bag that seems to be grease-stained. Leftovers?
After two blocks I learn tailing a monk has its ups and downs. It’s easy to keep up to his leisurely pace but I’m certain I look ridiculous attempting to move this slow. He must sense my presence – I’m sensing his. His inner peace is wafting from him like the sweet smell of freshly baked bread, and I am the hungry soul blindly following the scent.
I decide to duck over to the next street to be less conspicuous. This way I will be paralleling him down to the river, certain he is heading for the Riverside Trail. I am now aware of why I am so desperate to stay close to this man. It’s as if the world has slowed down and, in this moment, I have escaped the chaotic pace of everyday life – a chaotic pace that has even made its way to my little town.
I’ve reached the river; my monk should be coming along soon. A rush of panic fills me from head to toe as I wait to glimpse his red robes. What if he turned the other way? And then finally he comes into view, making his way, as I cunningly surmised, to the Riverside Trail.
I step in behind him again, getting used to the new relaxed cadence of my walking. As I follow my monk I fall into his mindful rhythm and begin to feel a little lighter, a little more like me.
He takes a seat at a bench and I plan to keep going right past him until I hear, “Would you like to join me?”
My monk is looking right at me with kind, knowing eyes and I inwardly giggle at my naivety in believing he didn’t know I was following him. Finding my voice, I say, “Yes, yes I would.”
As I sit down, the feeling of calm that has been growing in me since I first saw my monk amplifies to epic proportions. He reaches into his paper bag and pulls out a chocolate cookie. My mind is blown. Monks eat cookies?
“Cookie?” he asks. “I have two.”
I nervously start to inhale the cookie and stop when I notice the sloth-like pace my monk is eating his. I smile to myself, to my monk, and to my cookie, then slowly begin the painstakingly slow process of eating at a snail’s pace.
But actually, it’s not painful at all. Because it’s a beautiful day and I’m sitting here on a bench, eating a cookie, next to my monk.
Joanna Sparrow Archibald has a passion for books, nature, and bottomless cups of tea. She works as naturopathic doctor, although considers herself a lifelong learner and is currently enthralled with the creative writing process. Her favourite literary heroines are Anne Shirley and Morag Gunn, resilient women gifted in the art of writing. Joanna lives in Burlington, Ontario, with her incredibly supportive family.
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