Part 4: His Final Journey
Richard decided against lung surgery
and chose alternative healing methods such as Qigong. While progressive and proactive in
dealing with his health, spiritually he was returning to his Catholic roots, though
still embracing the ideals of other religions he had studied throughout his life. In the
Year 2001, having been told by his doctor that he did not have much longer to live,
Richard had many family and friends visit him at home. On February 2, 2001, he wrote in an
...We are preparing for a visit from
my sister this afternoon. She lives in Ohio and is an ordained minister of Unity Church.
We were raised Catholic, but she wasn't happy that women were relegated to almost second
class citizenship in the church. So she became a protestant and an ordained minister. She
has a small parish back near where we were raised in Ohio. She is the only one in our
family I communicate with any more.
What else? I have sent for a series of Spanish language tapes. The army sent me to Fordham
University to study Spanish area and language during the Second WW. Now I feel I want to
complete the beginning. Then I will do French. College cheated me out of really getting
all of every language I studied. Left me in mid-sentence so to speak. So I will do it on
my own in my own way. I have begun trying to memorize St. John of the Cross's Dark Night
of the Soul poem. It is incredibly beautiful Spanish. The only poetry I can compare it to
is [Pablo] Neruda's Twenty Love Poems written when he was only 19....
In an e-mail written on February 26, 2001, Richard announced that he
was "vaguely preparing for a very long hike-pilgrimage on the Xamino in Northern
Spain late this spring -- if my doctor approves. It's almost 500 miles of el Camino de
Santiago de Compostela. I think I can do it, but -- We will see...." A little more
than two months later, Richard had embarked upon the Camino, but his lungs were unable to
endure the strain, and after walking a brief distance he ended up in the emergency room in
Pamplona. Upon returning home to Joshua Tree, Richard philosophically concluded in a
letter to his friends written on May 24, 2001:
my journey then a failure? Shall I go back next year
and try to improve on my record, do it in even shorter
time and end up in the Guiness Book of Records? What?
I feel I have disappointed many of you, for which
I am sorry. But I feel my journey was really quite
perfect and quite what it was supposed to be. I think
perhaps my sitting in the waiting room at Urgencias
in Pamplona was a lesson I had to learn. Something
about compassion. Something about being genuine. I
was among Spaniards who were suffering, in pain, desperate.
We were in hospital gowns. One old old lady in a wheel
chair and her daughter who put her head on her mother's
arm and wept. The old lady occasionally touched her
daughter's arm, gently, softly, as if to say I will
go soon. I have to go soon and you will be all right.
But it was the touch alone that mattered. There were
no words. Just the touch, the tears. And another woman
receiving chemotherapy and vomiting and her daughter
running for a basin. An old man tended to by his wife.
When he was wheeled out, she marched stiffly back
and forth, back and forth. What would she do if he
didn't return? But he did return and she touched him,
fixed his collar, put his blanket around his legs
more snugly. And suddenly from nowhere there appeared
a beautiful girl about fourteen with a cell phone
stuck to her ear and laughing and talking and dancing
back out of the room again. She would never have to
come to such a place. She would never have to attend
her dying mother. She would never be a dying mother.
She was gracefully, elegantly dancing through life
laughing and talking to people she couldn't see....
As the months passed, Richard
miraculously regained his strength, and in an e-mail sent on August 28, 2001, discussed preparations he and Savya were making for
"a concert up here on the 22nd of September, our fiftieth wedding anniversary. It's
also the equinox. It could well be our last Ceremonial Sounds concert. Moving instruments
around is not that much fun anymore...."
Though Richard had been anxious about the anniversary concert prior to their performance,
he was in good spirits following the event, despite having injured his back in the
aftermath. In an e-mail written on September
26, 2001 he explained: "...setting the instruments and decorations up, then
"tearing" them down proved to be almost too much for me to handle. So I ended up
-- at the least -- with a sore back. But it doesn't matter. There were 160 people here and
the concert- celebration came off very well. A fine finale, I think. Savya and I are both
Less than two months after the
concert, Richard's health began to decline. In mid-November, he sent an e-mail greeting
card about having seen the Leonid meteor shower. (Click on the e-mail greeting image at right to enlarge.) Richard did not say that
he was not feeling well, but the message in the cartoon greeting said it all:
"Sometimes it takes just one good "outburst" to make it through the day!
aacck!" The meaning of the greeting card became clearer in what would be his last
e-mail to me, sent on November 19, 2001:
I couldn't sleep that night [of the
meteor shower]: I am on some new antibiotic that makes me a bit hyper. So at one, one
thirty, then two, I went out to look up at the sky, and there they were, the Leonids. What
amazed me were the long tails some of them had. The meteors are apparently rather small in
themselves; it's their speed that makes them so visible. (I guess the message is to slow
down unless you
want to be noticed.) Savya came out too and actually stayed out after me for a bit. We
slept in the next morning. But we have seen many celestial sights up here: The Hales
Comet, the Hale Bopp comet, and others I forget. We even thought of buying a telescope,
but the field of vision is much too narrow for us. We want the entire sky to float around
in. Anyway, thanks. Happy Thanks Giving. Glad you could
hear the [e-mail greeting] card [I sent]! richard
Richard died in his sleep on December
14, 2001, survived by his wife Savya and their daughter Lilith, granddaughter Dawn, and
great-grandchildren Aimee, Kiran, and Angelie. A memorial service was held for him at
their home on December 22, 2001. Richard E. Lee may be gone from this earth, but he shall
not be forgotten.
In closing, I leave with you the
words of Richard E. Lee, words of peace, from a poem entitled "Poem," written in December 1980:
No poem today, this day of the Lord,
this Sunday in December when the light
shines a gray the Chinese Masters
would have cherished, a day of mist
and fog. A hint of storm, but later,
much later, not now. No poem written
on such a day when such a day is its
own poetry, is the stuff of poems. I
need not add to anything so perfect, in-
deed cannot. Today is its own poem.
I but move in and out of it, paying
as much attention as I can, admiring
what I see, the soft white halos
of puffballs before they fly, the bells
of flowers that ring in whatever wind
there is in this still weather. Birds dart
about, foxes strive, hide, lovers walk.
No poem today. Today is its own poem.