A sixty-something-year-old woman just passed me on my run. Granted, she was going the opposite direction, but I’m sure she was running faster than I was. I know I shouldn’t care. After all, life isn’t a competition.
Yeah, right. Who am I kidding?
I want to break bread with the one who never makes comparisons, the one so accepting and blissful that everyone else’s accomplishments are simply an opportunity for joint celebration.
Well, not really. I don’t think I’d have much in common with someone like that. But it is something to strive for.
Life’s mixed messages could fill a book. From an early age, I was a sports enthusiast, and despite the proclamations of AYSO, it’s not just about participating. We are bred to win, to pursue the trophy for the mantle, to measure our success by the number of pluses in the win column.
Somewhere along the road, the message shifts, and we’re encouraged to embrace acceptance, to believe that wherever we are – even if it’s stuck in mud – is exactly where we’re meant to be. But meanwhile, we’re supposed to work on self-improvement. And get in better shape.
Ouch. My head hurts.
Improve. Accept. Improve. Accept. This is why we have two hands, so that we can outstretch them and mime balance.
When my son was two-years-old, I knew my life was out of whack. I did nothing for myself, the typical devoted first-time mom who placed herself last in the hierarchy of deserving. But one day I forced myself out for a solitary stroll on nearby Main St., poking my head into shops as my then husband played with our son back at home.
“Just looking,” I said as I slid through a jewelry store door.
I moved past the offerings, slowly, a meditative luxury I hadn’t allowed myself in a long while. I wasn’t looking to buy. I was looking to look, to fill my visual senses with the creativity of artisans and designers.
Screaming out from a display case was a ring with the word ‘BALANCE’ inscribed across its plain silver band, the word staring up at me like a command. When jewelry starts speaking to you, it’s time to listen. Without hesitation, I purchased the ring figuring that if I placed such a reminder upon my finger, I could no longer deny myself. And it worked. When tempted to ignore my own needs, I looked down at that ring and then adjusted slightly to consider myself in the equation.
“Why are you wearing a ring with the name ‘LANCE’ on it?” my friend asked on that rare occasion when I gathered with others for drinks. She took my hand in hers for better inspection. I have fairly small hands and awfully small fingers. She saw what she saw.
“It reminds me I have options,” I said, leaving it like that.
After a year or so, the ring fell from my finger. I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but suddenly my companion had vanished. Rather than mourn the ring’s departure, I took it as a simple sign: I’d achieved balance and no longer needed a daily reminder.
But I often still fall victim to the comparison devil. As I see other people’s lives dance before me, I pick and choose which components I wish occupied my own. And while comparison-shopping is a handy tool to save money, it really shouldn’t be applied to lives, except for the sole purpose of presenting us with options.
Happily, I have some great options. While I could have continued to slave at a job that only allowed me fifteen rushed minutes with my son each morning, returning me home at night long after he was asleep, I’ve walked away. For now. My creative life is essential to me so I’m working on the homespun version, but to date, my greatest accomplishment is the relationship I’ve shaped with my son, one that is so open and honest that no discussion is off the table.
Long before need could arise, my son knew what a condom was thanks to the internet circulation of a brilliantly funny French condom ad, and the fact that my son likes to look over my shoulder. Beware what arrives in your inbox. Random emails prompt everything, including healthy premature discussions of contraception. On another occasion as my son raced through a Japanese Manga, he encountered some provocative imagery. He shyly approached me, and as I looked at the sexist comic, we talked about male-female relations and cultural differences. I still remember his contemplative look as he considered how women should be treated and portrayed.
I’ve warned my son that he may not always want to plop down beside me on my bed saying, “Can we have one of our talks?” The teen years could be rough for us, I cautioned, as the push-pull between parent and child emerges, but ultimately, I reassured him, “We’ll be fine. I’ll meet you on the other side,” I smiled. “Sometime around when you turn nineteen.”
When I focus on these little moments, all comparisons slip away, and I can occupy my life without the need to compete. Though, I must confess, I wonder how fast I’ll be running at sixty.