Richard Lee

Richard Lee – Living life facing forward

Between 2005 and 2007 three things happened to me that changed my life.  The first was my retirement from 43 years of teaching philosophy at Trinity College in Hartford.  The second was the message I was getting from my knees — stop all this running (seven marathons and many shorter races) or take a chance on being crippled.  The third was the death of my wife.

Richard Lee

            Before my wife died she had introduced me to Tai Chi.  We took classes together until Parkinson’s disease proved too devastating.  After her death I continued with classes, and this proved to be enormously important.  It helped stabilize me emotionally–both from the exercise routines themselves and from my teacher and fellow students.  On the physical side, it provided me with disciplined forms and movements that my knees would tolerate.  Intellectually and spiritually it moved the focus of my mind away from a life-long commitment to western Philosophy to an interest in Zen and Buddhist thought generally.

A week of decision

            All three of these factors worked in concert.  I well remember the week during which I had to decide whether to live the remainder of my life looking backward, thinking  of myself as a “survivor,” or to let the past BE the past, and instead live my life facing forward.  I chose the latter.  I have not forgotten my past–by no means–but I found a way to let it be a foundation for a new life, and not a stone monument to a life essentially over.

            I have been lucky.  Born in 1936,  I was either too young or too old for the wars this country has fought during those years.  I entered academe at just the right time–expansion and innovation were the order of the day. I learned from my colleagues and my many students. I wrote, talked, and taught philosophy–I realized a destiny that I had known was mine from age 12–I was a philosopher.   My only regret is that I attended too many committee meetings.

            I am still that same person–and yet so changed.  I will close these reflections with a story from the time just after I became engaged to be married—my wife had many South American and Spanish relatives and  I had to be interviewed by as many as possible to see if I was suitable.  One was an ex-mayor of Majorca– a formidable man who waved his cigarette wildly in the air when he talked, scattering ashes all over.  “Well, Senor Lee, what do you think of the future?”  (He knew I was studying Philosophy at Yale.)  A critical moment!  “Ah,” I said, “the future lies ahead.”  It worked for him–and it still works for me.

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