On a Stroke Victim

The retired professor lay in his bed, propped up by many pillows at his back. His wife busied herself with bringing his things to drink, tidying his bedclothes, and making sure he had newspapers and the daily mail. The stroke had left him paralyzed on his left side and partially blind. But today, some people were coming for a visit, and she wanted to make sure they saw the proud man at his best.

This stroke wasn’t his first. Back when he worked at the college, he had suffered several mini-strokes that had temporarily impaired his mobility and his vision. Like his father before him, it was said, he suffered from premature hardening of the arteries. Yet, he continued to work and to teach.

The professor had done much traveling in the years after he retired from the classroom. He had been across the nation many times by train. He had even been to Europe. His wife and doctor suspected that the travel had tired him and had contributed to the severity of the stroke.

The professor’s wife had taken direct charge of his recovery after this latest and most severe event. She limited his visitors to herself and the family doctor. The professor’s friends and extended family were forbidden entry. And the wife kept the severity of the professor’s health a secret–even to him.

The illness wore on, and the professor’s situation grew no better. In fact, in some ways, it grew worse.  It seems that the stroke had not only affected his body, but it had also changed his personality in many respects. Known as a man who had complete control over his emotions, since the stroke had occurred, he had been extremely emotional, he made impulsive and out of character exclamations, and his rational decision-making suffered dramatically. Soon, it was hard to see this man as the one who had been so respected when he worked in the classroom.

In fact, he had first made his reputation as a professor of history and political science. His book on politics and political science, The State, had even become the standard university textbook on the subject for several years. He was part of the generation known as the Progressives, and like many of his generation, his teachings promoted child labor laws, taxation of corporations, limiting the hours a worker could work per week, insisting on sanitary and safe factory conditions, and so on. One reviewer called his work the prototype of the modern welfare state. Such was his influence as a professor.

But that was long ago by the time he lay stricken in his bed. Many other important events had happened to him. And people who knew him–colleagues and family among them–were wanting to see if he was recovering or not.

Finally, after almost a year, the professor’s wife gave in. Some of his peers wanted to see the ill man. His wife agreed. So, on a good day, a day in which the professor could speak well and could sit up for a bit, she shaved her invalided husband, put his glasses on his nose, spread some newspapers around on the bed, and invited people over to see the man. Included in the group was one man with whom the professor had been at odds. They disagreed in years past on many of the Progressive principles the professor held dear. The disagreeable man seemed touched by the illness that had been brought to the professor’s life, even if they had been on different sides of many issues.

“I’m praying for you,” the man said, with sincerity.

“Oh? Which way?” answered President Woodrow Wilson.

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