There's a little joke here at the store that Thomas Merton is sort of like Elvis or Jerry Garcia, i.e. he's not really dead. On occasion one may catch a glimpse of him. You can never be absolutely certain you saw him, but over time the evidence builds up.
I was on a bus once from Tulsa to Memphis, and somewhere in the middle of Arkansas, just outside of Little Rock, there is an old, dilapidated bus stop, which probably hasn't been in use since the 60's. It was there I had my first Merton sighting. He was sitting there on a bench, looking pensive. He was wearing an old jacket over his religious habit, and he had on a small black cap. As our bus approached, he was merely staring at the ground. But just as we passed, he looked up and smiled. I'll never forget that moment; it was like a dream. Or was it a dream?
Merton sightings always occur under similar circumstances. They often happen in the desert or in other lonely places. There are some who claim they've seen not only Merton, but also Jerry Garcia, Elvis, and Jim Morrison all together and conversing. Perhaps Merton is now the spiritual leader of an elusive band of supposedly dead celebrities?
Many years ago, while riding out West on a 1940s Indian motorcycle (in British racing green), I saw Merton peeling a potato under a sycamore tree. I pulled off the road, parked my bike and began walking up to him. With about ten feet between us, I hailed him, but then he simply vanished! The potato and knife fell to the ground. I ate the potato and kept the knife, which I intend to give back to him someday.
I know he's still out there.