I am a father, husband, physician, psychotherapist, poet, and artist. In 2001 I avoided a fatal heart attack by minutes. In 2004 I nearly died in a bicycling accident, suffering a severe traumatic brain injury and a massive bleeding stroke. I was paralyzed on my right side for almost two months. In 2010 I had to retire from the practice of Medicine because of my injuries.
I like to say that life grabs us by the throat and demands that we pay attention. When we do not pay attention, life disappears like drops of water in a hot pan…the trap door opens and suddenly we are not inside. In the hospital, paralyzed, I began to pay attention.
So it began, making art is my new story. I am searching for the multitude of ways people describe the divine nature of their lives. The spiritual leaders portraits begin to tell that story.
These portraits of spiritual leaders, with a few exceptions, focus on communities in California’s Central Valley. This project began on a drive home from LA on Highway 5 in 2005. As I drove north, I looked to the East across the Valley and saw no signs of people and the places they lived. I have always been curious about people and their lives and that may explain why, on this trip north in 2005, I got off 5 above the Grapevine. I drove north on Highway 33, a two-lane road, that wanders from town to town, along levees and through fields. After that drive, I started making trips to the Valley to do portraits. In a new town, my first stop is the chamber of commerce, then the local newspaper, parks, donut shops, and other gathering places. I ask people if they know a spiritual leader they could introduce me to. I also ask ‘is there someone you think I should meet, someone you might describe as “Oh, now you have to talk to Dave, he is a real character.” One person sends me to another, and they send me on to someone else. I drive up, unannounced, to churches, town halls, restaurants, bars, front steps, businesses and more. I introduce myself, explain what I am doing, then ask them to sit for a portrait. I record our conversations, transcribe them, and integrate excerpts into the portrait. I learned early on to expand my definition of a spiritual leader those who graduated from a seminary, yeshiva, or madrasa. I have done portraits of pastors, priests, rabbis, Native American spiritual guides, Hmong shamen, community leaders, an organic farmer, mayors, people who built communities of worship, among others.
I have learned that the sacred can be found many places.
I have learned that everyone adds to the reservoir of the divine.
I have learned that the people I meet become friends and when we sit down together over food and wine at a table in the Central Valley or Sonoma County or anywhere for that matter, it transforms us time after time.
I have learned that each day we sit down together at a common table, whether we are together or apart. One world, one table, may it always be so.