The campus where I can be spotted – I'm that small, mousy, absent-minded oba talking to every tree she passes – is rather beautiful. A great deal of that beauty is thanks to its trees: dignified old-timers that stand guard over buildings, teachers and students. They provide a tranquil environment, but they also demand a lot of work.
|This is a giant camphor tree ( クスノキ or kusunoki) on the campus.|
About once a month, a garden service comes to the campus to sweep leaves and to tidy up. The gardeners are mentally challenged adults. I admire both the garden service for providing work, and the university for giving them a contract.
Last week, as I was approaching their working area, I saw one gardener with Down syndrome sweeping leaves on a narrow stairway that leads from the campus to the street. He didn't look up, but said "ohayō gozaimasu" to every person who passed. Everybody, from grizzled professors to the nation's bright young things, ignored him.
I don't know what made me do it, but when I passed him and he said hallo, I stopped and returned his greeting. He glanced up, startled. I smiled at him. He hesitated, and then … he beamed. He was radiating light. We grinned at each other in mutual delight, and then he returned to his work while I walked on. I was fighting back tears.
We grow emotional in our old age.