Some great political leaders go through their adult lives without experiencing visible suffering. We think of Margaret Thatcher.
Others do not. Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years. Václav Havel didn’t serve anything like that long, but was in and out of jail frequently, and under constant government surveillance.
At one point, the western world’s leadership was shaped by having lived through two world wars. Dwight Eisenhower had been as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe.
Winston Churchill served in the army during the First World War. Charles de Gaulle, that great French patriot and a soldier himself, was sentenced to death in absentia by a French military court in 1940.
Konrad Adenauer was imprisoned by the nazis and was lucky to survive. Alcide de Gasperi was locked up under Mussolini.
Today’s senior MPs haven’t had that kind of experience, and their circumstances have been relatively untroubled – though Gordon Brown and his wife lost their baby daughter, Sarah, and David Cameron and his their son, Ivan.
A few days in intensive care doesn’t compare with 27 years in prison, but it will be a testing and distressing time for Boris Johnson. We want him to be out of it as soon as possible.
We also hope that the Prime Minister standing with his people, in the form of enduring a virus that will kill thousands, most of whom will die separated from their families, turns out to have a positive side both for him and the country.
As Mayor of London, Johnson was a unifying figure. You don’t get to be Mayor of London in what essentially is a Labour city without having broad political appeal.
Brexit was necessarily a divisive business and, as the figurehead of the Leave campaign, he thus became a divisive figure. Being so is not always a bad thing: leaders must sometimes make unpopular decisions.
Those who love Johnson will do so all the more after this illness, and those who hate him are mostly so consumed by their own negativity as to carry on doing so.
The majority falls into neither camp, and it may just be that many will look at the Prime Minister in a new light after the last few days.
On Sunday evening, when the news of his move to intensive care broke and hard information was scant, it seemed possible that Britain might lose him.
May the new Johnson, last December’s referendum-scarred near-landslide winner, regain the wider affection of the old one, the Mayor who once got stuck on a zip wire. It’s time for the scars of Brexit to begin to heal.