It’s All About Who You Compare Yourself To

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather
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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 Ted 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.

Epilogue

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. 

Photo by Michelle Mather. For more information about Cam Mather or his books visit www.cammather.com or www.aztext.com

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