I needed to go to Walmart yesterday and I headed out to the truck. In the driveway I noticed a stranger in shorts, sneakers and a T-Shirt with the word, BREATHE, across the front. He was trim and fit.
“I am Buddha,” he said, smiling.
“C’mon,” I laughed. I looked him over a little more: his smile seemed real and his arms hung loosely at his side. He was bald, with dark, sparkling eyes, and he looked about my age. Still, how could this be?
“Really, I am. I live now in California. I’m visiting here for two weeks, staying with the Martin’s on Keystone Ct. When you came out, I thought maybe I could meet you. Are you heading out in your truck?” He walked toward me and held out his hand.
“Yes, I have to go to the store.” We shook hands, “I’m Warren.”
“May I join you?” He smiled.
I paused a moment and looked at him again, “I’m only going to Walmart, but, well, if you want, sure, you’re welcome to come.”
“Do you think I might drive—would you mind? I know it’s an unusual request.”
No stranger had ever made such a request. Yet, there was something peaceful about this guy. He stood relaxed, and his tone was matter-of-fact but not aggressive. I thought if this guy isn’t Buddha, he’s close.
“Do you know how?”
He showed a current California driver’s license; he said he didn’t own a car but liked to drive. We reviewed the controls and set the seat and mirrors to his liking.
As we headed out, Buddha smiled broadly. He accelerated slowly up the hill, getting the feel of the truck. He checked his mirrors every little while to see if anyone was coming up from behind. Soon we were on Morton road, and it was clear that Buddha was an experienced driver. So I figured this was a good time to ask him about his reincarnation, his visit here, his teaching … .
“Buddha,” I started, “can you tell me who you were in your last incarnation?”
“Buddha,” he said. “I’m always Buddha.” He kept his eyes forward, checking the mirror.
“Okay, okay, but what, well, what do you do; what did you do in your last life?” I twisted a little in my seat to look at him.
“Please help me,” he said. “Please help me watch the road. I like to drive, but I’m old—my reactions aren’t so fast anymore.”
I turned forward and stayed quiet.
“Are there dangerous places on this route?” he asked.
“There is one place on Old Lexington Road where people sometimes pull out and drive slowly even though it’s a fifty miles-per-hour zone. You may have to brake.”
“Please let me know when we’re getting close, okay?”
He drove the speed limit and maintained both hands on the wheel. “I love it,” he smiled, cocking his head a little.
I reached over to turn on the radio. We have an easy-listening station that I thought he might like. “Radio?” I asked.
“Please, no. I’m afraid it will pull my mind away.”
Soon we were into town with streets intersecting, traffic lights, and pedestrians. Buddha sat a little forward, watching everything.
“Isn’t it exhausting, driving like that?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’re so intent, so focused. Can you drive like that for long periods?”
“Paying attention isn’t tiring,” he answered. “After all, if you let your mind wander, then you’re paying attention to wherever it goes. I want to keep it on driving, at least when I’m really driving. It’s very safe, you know—recommended in all the driving manuals.
He continued, “Actually, it’s fun. I wonder what these people will do and how I might respond. It’s an ever-changing puzzle with …”
RING … RING … my cell phone! I pulled it out to see who was calling and turned it off. I knew he would find it distracting.
“Is that your phone?”
“Yes, it was my son, Andy.”
“Aren’t sons wonderful?” Buddha said, widening his smile. “Thanks for turning it off. Would you like me to pull off so you can call him?”
“No. We’re visiting him next week, and he probably just wants to talk about plans. I’ll call him later.” I paused, smiled. “He won’t believe me, you know, that I met you, really, that you’re Buddha.”
We arrived at Walmart and Buddha came with me into the store. I needed some batteries and toothpaste. He talked about the people, about the way they dressed or kept their hair, or how they lingered at the shelves, how they sometimes seemed lost or angry. He enjoyed the electric carts.
“Would you like to go somewhere for coffee?” he asked when we were leaving the store.
“Let’s go to McDonald’s,” I said. “They serve hot coffee and we can talk. I have a thousand questions for you.”
“That sounds great.” Then he smiled, “Why don’t you drive.”