What would be the difference if, in the title of Willa Cather’s novel, “Death Comes for the Archbishop”, she had instead chosen to use the word “to” in replacement of “for”? Would empires have fallen, world wars have been averted or earthquakes and other natural disasters have been delayed?
Likely, not; but would the countless minds that have encountered the novel, enjoyed its beautiful prose and admired its humanity and warmth in the telling of a tale of a time long past and a period now gone — would anyone have even noticed? Is there a difference with a distinction: “Death Comes for the Archbishop” as opposed to “Death Comes to the Archbishop”?
Some might dismissively declare, “In any event, the Archbishop died, didn’t he?” The subtlety of distinction — should it even be brought up? Would that the title was of the latter instead of the former — would anyone have even noticed? Is there a grammatical point of difference; is one “more” correct than the other?
Certainly, the “sense” that is employed exists — where, the “to” has a much more objective and distant, impersonal “feel” to it, whereas the “for” personalizes it, gives it warmth, almost as if “death” is a person as opposed to an event, and the “for” makes it a personal possessive as opposed to the “to” that connotes an arms-length relationship between the object and subject.
Are the prepositions interchangeable? If a person is stricken with grief over a tragedy and a close friend arrives to provide comfort and says, “I came for you”, it would be a statement that would be considered heart-warming. If, under the same circumstances, the person instead declared, “I came to you” — would we, again, mark the difference or even notice? It is, certainly, a statement of objective fact — the person objectively traveled and arrived at destination Point B from origination Point A.
Again, the subtle distinction — the “for” connotes a greater personal warmth as opposed to a simple statement of fact. It is, in the end, the subtle differences that sometimes makes the entirety of a distinction that makes the difference.
For Federal employees and U.S. Postal workers who suffer from a medical condition, such that the medical condition prevents the Federal or Postal worker from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job, the distinction between “to” and “for” is often the difference between living a life worthwhile and one that remains cold and impervious.
Human beings are often careless in their personal relationships; and the test of such caring or uncaring attitudes will often surface when a person is going through a trial or tragedy, and preparing, formulating and filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits through the complex and impersonal administrative process of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, whether the Federal or Postal employee is under FERS, CSRS or CSRS Offset, will often test the workplace relationships because of the self-interested motives that exist with agencies and the Postal Service.
Some coworkers, supervisors and others will distance themselves immediately, and they will remain in the category of the “to” people; while other coworkers, managers, supervisors, etc., will surprisingly be there “for” you. Willa Cather chose the preposition “for” over the “to” because she was an excellent author, and it is the excellence of a human being that is revealed in the subtle differences we often overlook.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire