The Pittsburgh Press (July 28, 1944)
I DARE SAY —
You can’t make people over!
By Florence Fisher Parry
I can’t help feeling bad over the defeat of Senator “Cotton Ed” Smith of South Carolina. I keep worrying about him and what he’ll do after 36 years in the Senate. He is getting old, you know. His life can’t make new habit patterns. They’ve been fixed for a long time; they’ve woven into the tapestry of Washington and the Senate, and he’ll be lost and miserable.
I don’t know why I should worry about him. I don’t know him. One time he sat at a Senate hearing in which I happened to participate in an unimportant way. But there was a wry, dry quality in his humor that I liked. He was what you might call a character down there in Washington.
And now he’s suddenly a defeated old man with nothing to do but retire and die. Oh, yes, that’s what happens nearly always. Human beings are strange creatures, simply yet wonderfully made. To each one his own life habits become a kind of rut which in times cuts deeper and deeper; and the wheels of his every day just naturally travel along in that rut until the end of the road.
Doctors know this. The really wise doctor never prescribes a complete change of life for his patient. He may prescribe a short change of scene; but if he is really wise, he adapts his prescription as closely to the life his patient has lived before as is possible, knowing that to dislocate the habits of a lifetime too abruptly and violently can work great harm.
The wise physician
I remember one time I was very sick. Yet I kept putting off going to see a doctor. I was afraid. I was afraid he’d prescribe for me an impossible regime, and I knew that were he to do anything so drastic, it would completely defeat his chances of restoring me to health.
Imagine them, my great relief when after finally going to see this certain doctor, before he did anything else, he ascertained the tempo of my life and just what pace I had established, just how packed and urgent my days.
And only then did he prescribe my treatment, not attempting to reduce my life’s tempo, not risking dislocating it from the habit groove which had become the very core and nerve and essence of me.
I lived for a time in Pasadena, and I’ll never forget the homes there that had been built by men whose doctors had told them they had to retire, and who died before their mansions of retirement were completed.
On the other hand, I know a man who was sent home from the Mayo Clinic to die of a swift and mortal disease. Well, he hadn’t expected to die so young. He had already cut out for himself so awfully much to do.
“Why, I can’t afford to die so soon!” I remember hearing him say, “If I just would be given enough time to get things shaped up better!”
So, he pitched into the business of shaping things up. You should have seen him stand up against the scythe! Far from slowing his pace, his tempo seemed to increase with each urgent day. He moved mountains. He performed miracles. There were moments when even the image of the close, relentless specter dissolved before his burning eyes.
I tell you he literally held off death at arm’s length for four years, and only then, when things finally shaped up, as he put it, he walked upstairs, took off his clothes and crawled into bed and died.
Yes, human dynamos like hat are man-made; they are geared to a certain performance and run their course according to the tempo established within them. It’s a bitter thing, it’s a dangerous thing to interfere with that tempo! That’s why it’s a sad thing when a lifelong Senator, never mind his deserving or undeserving, crashes down into defeat.
That’s why, I guess, I keep thinking today of “Cotton Ed” Smith.
No one so ignorant but knows himself better than does the wisest outsider! And be he reformer or healer or even friend, there is no one who is privy to the inner mechanism of another or who dares, without risk, tamper too roughly with the delicate mechanism within another’s solitary itself.
For human beings may be likened to clocks – crude and delicate – large and small – simple and intricate. Each one sets its own tick, some fast, some slow; some erratic, some even; and although the hour hands of all may conform in establishing their circle around the dial within the hour, the inner mechanism, the inner tempo, can be as different as that of a wristwatch to a majestic grandfather’s clock upon the stairs!