So there I was, watching “Roman J Israel Esq” –the movie. And some sneaky feelings came upon me.
This is not really a review of the movie but a quick note on some of the thoughts the movie brought to mind. I had not looked at a lot of reviews for the movie nor did I watch the trailer prior to deciding that this is a movie I would watch. I knew only that it was connected to law and possibly civil rights law, and that some reviews were good–the metacritic score was 51% after more than 100 reviews. Well I am glad I watched it.
The plot summary is that of a middle aged idealistic black lawyer with a dream of sweeping reform in the justice system particularly as it relates to the Office of the Public Defender. He is disgusted with the way in which the office is set up to choose expediency over delivery of justice. Meanwhile he has spent most of his career working in the background at a private firm doing due diligence and research for his partner who is the public face of the firm. It suits him because he shies from attention, very aware of his own eccentric nature. He lives a meager life armed with his dream of a larger impact on the justice system. Suddenly his partner dies and the family decide to shutter the practice, leaving Mr. Israel to find a job with a larger firm. There his new and younger boss, also an acquaintance of his former partner, slowly becomes impressed with Mr. Israel’s idealistic viewpoints. Ironically this occurs simultaneously with Mr. Israel gradually relinquishing such idealism. At some point after enduring many ignominies he decides to totally abandon his principles and focus on living a life of luxury that he felt by now he deserved.
That decision and the consequence of departing from one’s principles must find resonance with every thinking person who has spent even a moment in reflection and self-examination. I was moved to ask myself whether my current behavior supports my founding or guiding principles and how have my principles may have changed over time and with money. Have I been serving self alone, or serving an unjust system because of the rewards I reap? Have I lost sight of who I am and why I do this?
I believe I have changed but I have not lost who I am. It is becoming increasingly difficult to see the old me and the old ways I had of thinking however, which is a part of maturity and in which there is some virtue. How can I run a smarter practice/business without considering finances? When I reach the end of a long day am I glad because I helped many people live better lives today? Or am I filled with pride that I efficiently raked in another installment of cash? Am I glad that the blood pressures all responded to my interventions? No, that is never a guarantee. Some will be unruly and elusive no matter what I do. Some patients will reject my advice, medications and interventions. However no five-star hotel will reject my payment for a weekend of amnesiac bliss in a new city. In other words as a result of the practicality of my field, I am glad at the end of the day because what I just did will allow me to continue to enjoy my passions in the little time I have available to do so.
None of this changes my conviction that we serve patients and not the other way around. I have sought to find a balance where I am always committed to delivering the best care I can no matter what time of day or night, but not as a martyr. I do not have to die for them. In fact the better I can take care of me, the more I can do for them. And taking care of me means pursuing my passions in my free time, and staying well.