As a general rule, I don’t compare myself with other people. Comparisons are mostly depressing, since too often I don’t think I quite measure up to the other person’s talent, intelligence, appearance, etc., and immediately begin wondering what I should be doing to catch up. And even if I do find someone who makes me look good by comparison, what’s the point? Does that mean I can just coast along with a sense of superiority, smug in the knowledge that “I’m so much better than that person?” I don’t think so.
But there are exceptions to every rule, and one of them is my Aunt Mickey. Technically, Mickey was my Great Aunt, because she was the wife of my Great Uncle Bud. She was, without a doubt, one of the most cheerful and upbeat people and I have ever known, and was always one of my most favorite members of the family. I loved visiting her house when I was a child, because I could always count on a warm welcome and a good time, not to mention delicious cookies. Aunt Mickey just genuinely seemed to enjoy life and to like people, which of course, drew them to her.
She was also very honest, and as I grew older and our talk became more serious, I learned some surprising things about Aunt Mickey’s background. From what I remember, she told me she and her two sisters were orphaned at an early aged and raised in a convent. One of her sisters died there, a result, she said, of a “broken heart.” She explained that although the nuns provided for the children’s physical needs, they didn’t know how to love them the way a mother would, and that her sister was a sickly child. Another time, she told me that being an orphan had often made her feel as if she didn’t really belong anywhere when she was young, and I wonder if that was why she was always so welcoming. She knew what it felt like to be an outsider, and did her best to make sure no one else felt that way. It was no surprise that when her surviving sister was widowed, Aunt Mickey and Uncle Bud converted their second story to an apartment for her to live in.
Aunt Mickey was my uncle’s third wife, but he was her first husband. They did not have any children of their own, although both of them dearly loved kids. My uncle was a unique soul, given to telling stories that may or may not have been true, but I never once heard Aunt Mickey correct him. Nor did she complain when his health meant giving up their big old house with the grape arbor in the backyard and moving to a high-rise retirement building in a rather sketchy neighborhood. After my uncle’s death, she lived there alone for several more years. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but whenever I visited her, she was her usual cheerful self, and spent far more time asking what was going on in my life than she did talking about what was going on in hers.
So, when I do feel the need to compare myself with someone else, I like to choose Aunt Mickey. Not because I feel as if I “measure up” to her, because I most certainly don’t. But comparing myself to Aunt Mickey reminds me that I can do so much better when it comes to being grateful for what I do have, for remembering to enjoy life even when things are hard, and that happiness has a whole lot more to do with my personal attitude than anything else. And that’s not a depressing comparison at all.