they say "comparison is the death of joy." or maybe i say that. i do, i did. i believe it too, but apparently i like killing joy because i still compare.
i compare my couch to yours.
my job to her's.
my status update to everyone's.
my present to my past.
it's that present/past comparison that has the most sting to it, right? because i bet we all have at least one pocket where we store wishes and wants that have yet to take hold in our life. we pull them out, pick out the bits of lint and crumbs, and stare at them longingly, hold them up to our current commitments and wonder.
how does the peace corp dream compare to your minimum wage job?
the grand mansion to the rented room?
master's program to the motherhood program?
or vice versa.
of course, the comparison is just the starting point. after the weighing and humming and mulling, after all that, there's judgment. and if joy is already dead, judgment is pouring concrete on her grave.
i try to resist judgment and turn to her kinder cousin, curiosity instead.
"hmmm," i think, "i wonder why you imagine that life to be more fulfilling than yours?"
(snarky middle school bitch replies: DUH- they just traveled to freaking CHINA and you can't even make it to the national park that is less than an hour away!")
"hmmm," i muse- making the universal sound of curiosity- the hmmmm, "what can i do right now to bring some of that past desire into today's destination?"
(yeah, she's right there: "how about you get out of the house? that might be a good first step.")
and so i do.
we somehow manage to gather fishing supplies, rain gear, snacks and get on the road before noon. we even buy a topographical map because the last time we wandered around the trail systems we ended up relying on my husband's internal compass- which is accurate but often sarcastic. as a rule, sarcasm while lost in the woods doesn't sit well with me.
map, food, gear. bonus points for camera, colored pencils, first aid kit, flashlight and lots of water.
we drive to the trail head, load up the backpacks and head out onto the 1 mile trek up an old road to the lake, known as Whistle. sounds delightful.
the papa and the big son have long legs and excitement to fuel them up the gradual grade and their forms quickly shrink in front of me and my 5 year old. in his red rubber rain boots, hoodie of chunky primary colors, and blue and red spider man fishing pole- he gets all the style points to be awarded today.
but his attitude sucks.
when he notices papa and brother up ahead he starts with the "wait up" mantra. except mantras are relaxing and his yelling is not. when he tires of his echoes bouncing around the woods, he settles into whining about how tired he is. his steps slow down, he is looking at his feet, he is miserable.
i know the feeling because i am kinda starting to feel miserable too. i think about how much i like hiking by myself. i start comparing my current hike with hundreds of other hikes of my past that were better because i could pick my pace, and go where i wanted and not hear a whining child next to me.
joy is withering.
fortunately, it is beautiful out. the sun is shining through new leaves in a way that makes them glow like neon. ferns are stretching out their arms after the long winter nap and even the smell of skunk cabbage makes me breath deeply.
joy takes hold and i start singing. this is distracting to the little son. especially since i am singing about him, his whining, how he wants to fish, how his feet hurt, how he is tired. i throw in some lines about bodily functions to make him smile. for minutes he forgets his misery, until it returns.
i check his backpack- wow, he's really prepared with two liters of water. i lighten his load. that's better- for 14 seconds.
i feed him peanuts and raisins, three at a time, popping them into his mouth like he is a little bird. when his mouth is full, he is silent. but his foot steps drag and he can still do that sigh. deeeep sigh of discontent.
then i remember how little he knows of the world. he has no concept of time, really. if you say something will take 10 minutes, he counts to 10 and looks at you with "now?!" firmly planted on his forehead. also, distance means nothing. he is consumed by the present emotion that rests in his heart.
i kneel down and explain, "we are walking uphill and that makes it harder. but look how far we have come!" and i turn him around to stare back over the path we have taken. he looks at down the road and for a moment i can tell he understands why it has been so hard.
i can tell he understands because when i look back at the path i have taken, i understand why it has been so hard. when i look at your present state and compare it to mine, i'm not honoring our paths. i'm thinking somehow your path has been easier. or that your reward means you are more deserving. but really each step has brought me right were i need to be.
i realize how important it is to have someone next to you to sing you songs, lighten your load, feed your spirit, and turn you around now and then and say "look what you have overcome so far."
i realize how important it is that i do this for others, especially for my children.
"just think, walking back it will be all down hill and super easy." i say to him, knowing that he cannot see into the future three hours from now when we pack up, without any fish, and head back.
also knowing that sometimes, it is uphill both ways- but that doesn't make the journey any less worthy.
sometimes struggling a bit, makes the joy you feel when you top the last hill and see the lake shining at you even better and your tiredness flies away- and in a surge of YES! you just run. run. run.