It’s All About Who You Compare Yourself To
By Cam Mather
About a year ago a childhood friend of mine, Teddy King, died. Teddy and I were no longer close; in fact I hadn’t seen him since about Grade 10. But his death has had a weird, profound effect on my life. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve reached the advanced age of 50+ or if it’s just a case of someone my own age passing away. I think the shock of his death had an amplified effect on me because not only is Teddy frozen in time from the 70’s, but also he was one of those larger than life characters that seemed invincible. How could such a young vibrant person no longer be with us?
Ted was smart and blond and a gifted athlete … all of the things that I wasn’t. He never had to work at school – he just “got it.” As far as sports were concerned, Teddy was always picked first. Baseball, ice hockey, floor hockey, ball hockey (we were frost-bitten Canadian boys after all), flag football, soccer, you name it, Ted excelled at every sport. Not only was he a great hockey player but also he played lacrosse all summer, which I looked at as a blood sport, where you were permitted, and in fact encouraged, to hack off any part of an opposing player’s body. As you might imagine, I was generally one of the last kids to be picked for any team. During the fitness test when you see how long you can stay in the flexed arm hang (basically part of a chin up) I was lucky if I could get myself up into the position, let alone hold it for more than 4 seconds. Teddy could hang there all day. Eventually the gym teacher would finally have to tell him that time was up and he could let go.
Teddy and I played on the same church league hockey team. Our parents took turns driving us to our 6 a.m. practices. This was in the days before players began wearing face protection. During one of our games I fell in to a pile of players in front of the net and when I stood up I realized that the back of a skate (which was just jutting steel, no protection in those days) had caught me in the right eyebrow. I found out that day that cuts on your face really bleed. A LOT! I’m sure I was probably crying and screaming as I skated off the ice to get stitches. I figured that the only consolation to being injured would be the attention I would get at school the next day. I was pretty confident that the girls would be impressed with my stitches and general hockey manliness. However, the next morning when Teddy’s mom picked me up in their jaunty station wagon with the awesome fake wood paneling on the side, I noticed that Teddy’s eye was swollen in exactly the same place as mine. It turned out that after getting cut he still managed to skate the length of the ice to score the winning goal. That was Ted. He managed to steal my one moment of glory.
This was the story of my friendship with Ted King. He did everything better than me, but we still got along well. In grade eleven I moved away and since this was in the days before the internet we lost touch with each other. Just before his death I met his brother Scott on Princess Street in Kingston and he told me that Ted had colon cancer.
I have really grieved Ted’s death, even though I hadn’t spoken to him in 35 years. He just always seemed larger than life to me, so I guess it was particularly shocking. But I have managed to take something positive from it. Whenever I am having a bad day, I think of Ted. When I’m having technical problems with computers, or I’m overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done in my garden right now, I think to myself, “Well Cam, at least you have the privilege to feel this stress.” In the words of an Eddie Vedder song, “Oh I’m still alive.” And it really helps. It puts things in perspective. And suddenly I can sit back and look at the brilliant green forests that surround me and get pretty mellow.
This is a concept that Michelle and I learned many years ago. It’s all about whom you compare yourself to. We’ve always had a small house and we’ve never made much money. When we compared ourselves to the people with big fancy homes with huge incomes we’d feel pretty discouraged. So we learned that it’s much better to compare yourself to someone who doesn’t even own a home or makes less money than we do. Compared to someone like that, we feel incredibly blessed. It’s like the quote “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” Luckily Michelle and I have always been on the same page in terms of what is important. Having a supportive spouse helps to keep me on track.
This morning I was working on the raised beds in the barn foundation getting them ready for planting. I have two apple trees in my barn foundation garden too. A couple of weeks ago we had a wicked windstorm come through here. It was part of the same extreme weather system that killed 300 people in the U.S. I have a lot of windows stored in the barn foundation. I hope to turn them into a greenhouse one day. The wind picked up one of these windows and slammed it into the wall near one of the apple trees. It broke into a million little pieces. I generally don’t wear gloves when I garden so I wasn’t very happy that my garden was now full of broken glass. It took a long time to clean up and it’s impossible to be sure that I got it all. So this morning as I was weeding I kept thinking about how annoyed I was about this window breaking and wondered if I was going to keep finding pieces of glass in my garden.
Then I thought about the NBC news last night that showed Brian Williams in Joplin, Missouri where a twister had blown through killing more than 100 people and basically leveling the town. Some of the images look like European cities after they’d been fire bombed in World War II. Every window in the hospital had been blown out. The town was just a right off.
And so I said to myself, “Cam, you’re concerned about a little broken glass in a garden? That’s a big problem to you? That’s going to ruin your day? Puh-lease! That’s pathetic.”
And for the rest of my weeding things didn’t seem so bad.
If things aren’t going well for you right now, you need to compare yourself to someone who has things worse, then shut up and get on with it.
Later as I was gardening I found a couple of spotted salamanders in the dark, damp soil under old hay and manure. I called Michelle so that we could both admire them. What a treat to be able to glimpse such an amazing part of nature. I carefully moved them to an out-of-the-way place where they’ll be safe. It’s turned into quite a great day after all.