Time to Think

Damon Runyon

Our Old Man said it sometimes did a man good to be laid up awhile by illness, allowing that it was not fatal or permanently disabling. He said it gave the invalid the opportunity of doing a lot of thinking and of getting a different view of many situations. He said a long stretch of lying in bed showed a man that things he thought were of vital importance did not matter so much after all.

He said an illness had the same general effect as the system some old monarch he had read about was supposed to have employed whenever he was beset by too many worrisome problems of state. The old boy would just order all correspondence and petitions and other documents locked up and would not look at them for several months. By that time the dire emergencies indicated in the correspondence would have passed.

Our Old Man said he knew of nothing that gave a man a better line on his own weight in the world than a spell of illness. He said that many a man who thought he was indispensable in his own field discovered when he was knocked out by sickness that things went along in his sphere about the same as usual and maybe a little better than usual.

He said a few weeks of helpless confinement generally showed a man that he was not absolutely essential to the world, no matter what his job. He said that after the first anxious inquiries and cheering messages and perhaps flowers, the man found that life was proceeding in the world outside his sick room without missing a beat and that even in his own household things had settled down after a brief uproar and were going along as evenly as if nothing had happened.

Our Old Man said this was a painful disillusionment to a man who had an idea that his little world revolved exclusively about him and that if he was incapable of activity everything would come to a halt. He said it was a surprise and a shock to many men to learn in illness that laughter continued around them and that gay music was not stilled.

Our Old Man said that personally he would not have it any different, but that he supposed he had become more philosophical through experience about these matters than the average man. He said he had weathered several protracted spells of illness in his lifetime and that he had learned through them that he was important only in proportion to his ability to be on his job.

He said he thought he was all the better for his illnesses, morally, if not physically, because he usually came out of them with his cranium deflated and his spirit greatly chastened. He said that he generally returned to his work with greater energy than ever before and with a determination to prove his value and that thus his productiveness was increased for a time.

He said he generally had a kindlier feeling toward his fellow citizens, too, including those that he knew had been viewing his illness from the standpoint of possible self-advancement. Our Old Man said he never felt bitter toward a pal who had probably been figuring that his illness might open the way to the pal’s promotion, even though the consummation of that thought could be arrived at only through his departure from this world.

Our Old Man said that was just human nature and that you could not change human nature. He said he remembered with shame that he once felt a vague glow on hearing of the illness of a chap whose passing would leave a vacancy that he would almost surely be called on to fill and that after that he never blamed a man in whose path he stood who came to his bedside when he was ill and spoke words of sympathy with a slight gleam of anticipation in his eyes.

Our Old Man said he realized that it was quite possible for a fellow citizen to feel truly sorry for him in his illness and yet at the same time be considering the eventualities of the illness from a personal standpoint. He said he was quite sure that no man ever hoped for the worst for him but just felt that if the worst was bound to happen, there was no harm in looking at the personal possibilities of the situation. Our Old Man said this was not ghoulishness at all, just more human nature.

He said he had found illness a great time in which to reflect on his mistakes. He said he could always see quite clearly, when stretched out on his back, his errors of omission and commission. He said it was then that he most keenly regretted the hours he had wasted, and the things he had said, and the friends he had neglected.

He said he had never failed, in illness, to firmly resolve that if permitted to escape from his bed of pain he would straighten out his whole life, and that this resolution lasted until he could take a firm step. Our Old Man said then he found he was just the same as before his illness. He said he guessed he had the same trouble as the Devil, as recounted in an ancient rhyme:

When the Devil was sick,

The Devil a monk would be.

When the Devil was well

The devil a monk was he.