Back in September of 2008, I stood outside of Midwest College of Oriental Medicine anxiously anticipating the first of many classes of what was to be a long journey into the field of holistic medicine. Nervously, I was standing alone watching the cars roll by in the Saturday morning Uptown Chicago traffic when I turned around to see a tall, thin man, wearing a dress shirt and tie, slacks, Chuck Taylors, and a cowboy hat walking into the school. He had the air of a collegiate professor with the demeanor of a punk rocker. “If that’s one of my professors,” I said to myself, “I’m in the right place.” As I walked inside the classroom, I looked up at our professor and found that it was him.
I’ll never forget that first class on our first day of school. I was scared and anxious, knowing next to nothing about Chinese medicine, but somehow I found myself in the middle of a Masters program for it. It was intimidating and exceedingly foreign to me. But the moment Doc spoke, his voice resonated with experience, authority, and passion, with a soft, underlying tone of compassion riddled with the wisdom one can only garner after a lifetime of trials and tribulations. During his welcome speech, he didn’t speak to us as if we were students in the midst of the sterile environment of academia, he spoke to us as friends and future colleagues. He knew nothing of us at the time, yet we were as familiar to him as apprentices that he personally took under his wing. He spoke and looked at us endearingly, as if to say “Kids, I’ve been there. I’ve been you. Let’s enjoy this together. Let’s live this path together.” We weren’t alone on this formidable journey. His energy was infectious and his passion was captivating. He welcomed us to the school, to the program, and thanked us for taking part in the medicine that was to revolutionize the country. We were going to change a lot of lives and help a lot of people to find comfort in their suffering. And it started right then and there in that classroom, face to face with a brilliant man who was going to teach us all we need to know to change the world of healing. I’ve never been inspired so viscerally in my life. His reassuring tone confirmed that I belonged exactly where I was sitting at the moment, that I was where I was meant to be. After so many years of feeling uneasy in my own skin, lost in this tumultuous world, he welcomed me home. And with him – at that very moment – I finally found a glimpse of hope.
Throughout the years of getting to know him, I’ve felt within his voice and saw within his eyes the pain and turbulence that was his life. The hurt and sorrow, and the struggle to be a sensitive creature in such an unforgiving world. I saw myself in him. There are only a few spaces where people like us can turn to for solace, and that’s the arts. Doc mastered the musical, performing, philosophical, and martial arts. But his greatest achievement was his mastery of the art of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Indulging in all of the arts that he loved, and by merely being his own eclectic and eccentric self, he was able to heal, inspire, and to help change lives. And by doing that, he found his inner joy. He taught me the value of being unapologetically true to your wild, weird self. And through him, I learned that when all else fails, the greatest way to heal yourself was to heal and inspire others.
I’m now keenly aware of my own grief from Doc’s passing. I simply miss him. I lament the fact that I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted with him. I wish that I could listen to his horribly dry jokes and to see him smile and to hear him snicker through his teeth just one last time. Most of all, I’ll miss his friendship, his influence, and his guidance. He helped me change my life.
I regret that I won’t be able to make it to his life’s celebration hosted by Midwest College in the coming days due to my obligations to my patients. But in that way, I’m honoring him in the way an apprentice forever honors his master… by carrying on his teachings. And I know in my heart that as long as I’m a healer, he’ll always be with me. Because of the wisdom that Doc has transmitted to me, now a professional acupuncturist myself… through every patient, through every single person that I’m able to bring at least an ounce of peace and comfort to, the healing spirit of Dr. Alan Uretz – my teacher, mentor, and friend – lives on.
Thank you for everything, Doc.