This is a very fine commentary on Thomas Merton by someone who knew him well. From Bob Lax’s journal dated July 24/69 (less than a year after Merton’s death). Jan 31 is Merton's birthday.
it must be one thing to imagine what a guru is like, another to see one. seeing merton was little enough like seeing an imaginary guru.
yet he had one quality, particularly in the last years, but even (to a large degree) from always, from even before he (formally) became a catholic: a certainty of tread.
that might sound as though he plonk plonk plonked like a german soldier as he walked down the street. actually, he didn’t: he danced (danced almost like fred astaire: bang bang bang; or bojangles robinson, tappety bam bam bam) but he knew where he was dancing.
he did walk with joy. he walked explosively: bang bang bang. as though fireworks, small & they too, joyful, went off every time his heel hit the ground.
this was true when he was still in college. it was true when he was just out of college, and it was true the last time I saw him bang bang banging down a long hallway at the monastery. he walked wth joy; knew where he was going.
first time I noted how he walked was on fifth avenue, near the park, in spring (late afternoon, I guess) as he came from somewhere uptown to meet me. bang bang bang. & that time I thought about fred astaire.
did merton & I make any resolutions as young men? one (& it wasn’t tacit) was to talk simply. merton certainly succeeded in that, & got a lot said in simple (not simplistic) language.
after merton became a catholic, was living & teaching at st. bonaventure’s, and was being fed good soups by the nice german nuns there, he was more determined to write simply, and about simple things: things they could understand & that would help them in their lives.