Thursday, February 15, 2007

Our Lodestone

I am humbled by the beauty and depth of the remembrances of Bill Mitchell that have been posted on this blog. I know that each one represents the thoughts and feelings of many hundreds of people whose lives were deeply touched by Bill.

I was stunned when I got the call at my desk from Sheldon Haber telling me of Bill’s death. For a moment I could hardly breathe, and thereafter I was simply in shock.

I cannot say that I knew Bill particularly deeply or well. I never had the occasion to take a class from him. But over 20 years of working together, I had many opportunities to come to profoundly regard this fine human being.

My first experiences of Bill were when I became a new trustee for Bastyr, back 20 years ago. Bill never would be the one who got caught up in the conflict of ideas or personalities. He would usually wait and listen, and then speak thoughtfully about whatever was being discussed from the perspective of the core principles that are the foundation of naturopathic medicine. I learned to wait until I heard from Bill before getting too set in my perspective.

But Bill’s biggest impact came from a more personal set of experiences. Our family had recently moved to Seattle, and when one of our kids got the occasional ear infection, I found myself in the very unfamiliar position of actually taking my child to a naturopathic physician.

I kind of remember what Bill did and the treatments he provided. But what I most remember was the way he was immediately able to tune into my son Dan, and calm him - even though Dan was in a lot of pain; and the way he formed friendships with each of my kids that made them enjoy going to the doctor and responding to his suggestions. One even became a vegetarian for quite a while.

From there Bill led me and our whole family on a path of discovery of naturopathic medicine, including a whole host of treatments and diet changes that I would have never imagined embracing. From this, as much as any intellectual activity, I came to know why the success of Bastyr University was important to me and to the world.

Over the next 20 years of my life, I devoted much of my life to building Bastyr. Things at times got pretty challenging. But Bill was always present as a lodestone – one who lived and breathed and loved all of the passion of our vision – and who reminded me all the time that it was NOT about budgets or plans or successes or failures but about taking each person exactly where they live – whether they be patient, parent, student, or colleague – and gently - but with strength and patience and firmness - inviting them into an always expanding discovery of what it meant to be healthy, to feel alive, and to reconnect with all that is deeply natural in ourselves and others.

I live a great distance from Bastyr now. In the past weeks I have missed not being able to simply go to the chapel and join in the important rituals of grieving, and to share in that process with a community that shares the grief I feel.

Bill was in the end so deeply a healer and a teacher that it infused everything he did – even the way he dealt with tragedy and sorrow in his own life. My life was immeasurably enriched by his presence in it – and he remains a source of inspiration.

My challenge is to keep his presence and his example still in my life – as invitation and model.

And our collective challenge is to keep his presence powerfully alive in our community.

Sandi Cutler
Former Vice President, Institutional Planning & Public Affairs, Bastyr University