Commitment: Why I Love “The Newsroom” and Hate “Hook-Ups”
and Why A Still, Small Voice Ought to Be Heeded

By

Leonard Zwelling

            I
believe in something greater than myself. It is something I do not understand.
I can’t touch it, taste it or see it, but I can feel it. It is always with me
yet intangible. It is undetectable in my blood lab work yet an absolutely vital
force in every breath I take. I cannot and will not name it for it has no name.

            But
because I can feel it, I know it when it is in my consciousness, or is more
likely emanating from within me for it is an internal power not derived from
the external environment. It is really the essence of humanity and every one of
us has it. Stephen Levine, one of my spiritual mentors, would just call it uhh!
It’s how you know that you are alive.

            This
force is very important to us humans. It’s probably the driver of our DNA’s
quest to replicate itself. Perhaps it’s the very force described by Arthur C.
Clarke in both “Childhood’s End” and “2001” that was captured rather opaquely
in the Kubrick film of the latter. Is it the force of the stars built into our genes that drives evolution from monkeys to spaceships to the Star Child? That’s
for each of us to decide.

            On
occasion, this force can actually be captured with words and pictures and
translated from person-to-person. That’s called art. Sometimes the force is so
intoxicating and makes us believe so much, that only when it is again lost to
the ether do we realize that it was ever there.

            For
those of my generation, that force had its lone political manifestation in the
presidency of John Kennedy. On his election night he and we were transformed
from being led by those born of the 19th  century to those stirred by a new and greatest generation
tempered by WWII. And we were their kids. Nothing was impossible.

            Then
came Dallas and it seemed that all was lost, but we all know better. Perhaps
the best of ourselves would never be seen in American government again, but
that doesn’t mean it was gone for good.

            For
those of us who came to MD Anderson 30 or so years ago, that was how we saw
this place. It was a place of unlimited possibilities. It was a noble calling.
It even had a slogan: “Fighting Cancer, Now That’s a Job!” Goodness how
things have changed.

            Changed
not for the better, but not irrevocably either. We have a choice. We can
recapture that MD Anderson or we can squander a crisis, something Rahm Emmanuel
would never allow.

            This
past weekend, two events starkly show the choices we have.

            On
Sunday, July 14, the New York Times Style Section published on its front page
one of the single most disturbing social stories I have read in years. It
describes the life of woman students at the University of Pennsylvania who are
too busy, too engrossed in their careers and too self-absorbed to take the time
to have meaningful relationships with men. Instead, their “needs” are fulfilled
in mindless trysts called “hook-ups” as they hurry between classes, band
practice, community service and basketball.

            Now
I am married to a pretty high-powered woman. We met when both of us were trying
to contend with the rigors of medical school. We had a real first date and many
thereafter. We have a good life together and we made time to have kids without
checking our blackberries for when we could fit that in. Read the story (below)
and come to your own conclusions about the smothering of meaning by a lack of
commitment to a person or a cause or, frankly, to oneself.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/fashion/sex-on-campus-she-can-play-that-game-too.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

            By
contrast, Sunday marked the return to HBO of my favorite show, “The Newsroom”.
This is a fast-paced overly talky, overly preachy, Aaron Sorkin-written (The
West Wing) liberally-biased and fictional presentation of a cable news network
where the suits and ratings whores are vying for air time with the newly
converted former ratings whore anchor (Jeff Daniels) and his old flame and
current executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer). The reason I love
the show is that its approach to the media is my approach to medicine. It’s all
about why we got into this business in the first place. For the news folks,
it’s about reporting the truth. For the doc folks, it’s about the melding of
science, compassion and the human drama of health and disease to help your
fellow man. You remember all that, don’t you?

            Well,
now is your chance to show what you are made of and what you really believe in.
Do you believe in the one-night stand, “hook-up” philosophy dished out by Dr.
Shine and the Board of Regents as a take it or leave it choice of a president?
Or do you remember what you came to church for in the first place?

            In
becoming doctors and scientists we were answering the call from the still,
small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13) once heard by Elijah. It is that force to which
I referred in the beginning of this piece. We cannot allow the acts of a few
men to derail the pursuit of our dreams, especially the ones emanating from
that force.

            On
Passover, during the latter half of the ceremonial holiday meal and retelling
of the Jews’ deliverance from Egypt called a seder, we open the door to invite the
spirit of Elijah in as we sing his praises. Consider this my opening of the
door at the end of the first phase of my seder/blog. Let that still, small
voice in. It is saying something very important.

            “Pay
attention”.

            I
know you can still hear why you came to MD Anderson. I also know you still
believe.

Leonard Zwelling