I’ve been thinking about comparison. I’m thinking that when I wake up in the middle of the night and my mind starts its rattle, it’s almost always because I am, without realizing it, comparing what’s happening now to what happened in the past or what could happen in the future. “I’m not sleeping. I have so much to do tomorrow. I have to get to sleep. What if not sleeping and cancer are related? What if I become demented because of not sleeping. What if I get Parkinson’s because I’m not sleeping?” From there, I can stretch to almost any disaster imaginable, and it all started with being up in the middle of the night—which really, was only being up in the middle of the night. Soft sheets. A comfortable bed. The dark dark dark mystery of night.
But it doesn’t stop there. Let’s take, for instance, my body. It is without a doubt not the same body I had fifty years ago, which was when the photo was taken. I didn’t have age spots, I didn’t have a chunk taken out of my left breast, I didn’t have a sagging neck or lines around my eyes. (Of course, if you had asked me then how I felt about my body, I wouldn’t have answered in glowing terms. I would have told you about my thunder thighs, my moon face, my thin hair. And in doing that, I would have once again been comparing myself to either an idealized version of myself or someone who had thin thighs, a longer face and Jane-Fonda-hair). The other day my friend said, “aging sucks.” And I thought, yeah, it does if you are comparing yourself to a younger version of yourself or to an image of what you could look like if only your chin was firm and your hands didn’t have so many wrinkles and you had the spunk of a thirty year old. Because now, in this body, without comparing myself to what I used to look like and without anticipating the further effects of the years and deciding that more disaster is in store, now, just now, without comparison, I have a face, hands, feet. I can move, feel, speak, touch. What’s the problem with having a sagging chin if I don’t compare it to a chin that doesn’t sag? What’s the problem with a breast that doesn’t look like the other breast if I’m not comparing it to my pre-cancer breast?
It happens so quickly, comparison, before we even realize that it’s happening. It’s comparison that creates the suffering, not the chin. Not the breast. Not being up in the middle of the night. It’s the mechanism of remembering and anticipating and skipping right over the simple fact of the present. So, here’s my question: if you woke up tomorrow and your ability to compare yourself to anything or anyone disappeared, how would you feel about yourself?