I first met Lee at a meditation group that gathers on the West Side on Saturday mornings. He lives in my neighborhood, off Hope Street, and he and his partner give me a lift to the sessions. We’ve become friends. On this day, in February, as they dropped me off, he stood with the snow falling around his shoulders talking about mindfulness. It struck me to ask if I could make his portrait.
I joined him a few hours later at his house, and we tramped into his back yard. A Buddha statue sat buried in the snow, the face rising above it, smiling and serene. Lee seemed comfortable there, too; he said it reminded him of his childhood landscape, deep in rural Maine. We tried a few poses, and then I wanted him to sit in the snow, like the Buddha. So we found the cover of a barrel and placed it down for him. As I struggled to compose his picture he just seemed to settle in, and breathe.
Lee describes a life of trying to weave a search for spiritual meaning into his place in the world. He has considered many paths: joining various religious orders, Catholic ordination, but none of these has seemed quite right. Most recently, in Rhode Island, he has served as a chaplain for hospice, sitting beside people on their deathbeds, helping usher them through their final journey.
“I would describe myself as a pilgrim,” he says, in response to my asking if he can describe his spiritual life. “I feel like I’m always on a journey – journey toward the divine, the whatever. I guess the older I get, the more I realize that life is really just a pilgrimage; it’s just a journey. We go from destination to destination: we’re always looking for home.”
Lee continues: “Some places feel more like home than other places. But I think the reality is – and I think this is what meditation teaches us – is that we carry home with us.”