Okay, so I’ve compared myself to a few people in my life. I admit it. But it’s hard not to. As a young boy and again as a teenager, my family changed school systems due to my dad’s career advancements. Whenever that happened, I found myself (as did my sisters) thrust uncomfortably into a classroom full of strangers who didn’t really care who I was or where I came from. Now, I made friends and (if I may be so bold) had a relatively successful academic, athletic and social school experience. But along the way, I admit, I could find myself in the trap of peering at those around me and comparing myself to them. While it never devolved into spiteful jealousy, it was a habit that risked a bit of bitterness. As a matter of fact, when contrasting myself with a friend named Chuck Johnson (written about here), my dad stopped me short in a moment of gratuitous whining and wisely advised, “Let Chuck worry about Chuck”. That advice and an excerpt from Max Ehrmann’s 1927 prose poem Desiderata,
“If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”
were quite instrumental in my recognition of the self-defeating nature of shallow comparisons. It was at that time that I realized that I could look at another person, admire a trait or virtue they had, be thankful for their model and work to cultivate similar gifts in myself. But if ever tempted to jealously, I embraced the notion that you can’t covet just one thing from someone else – it is a package deal. If you wish you were someone else for one or a few reasons, you would have to consider if you would be willing to switch EVERYTHING with them – EVERYTHING – the whole package with all the baggage. From skills, humor and looks to faith, friends and family. When envious we forget that the devil’s deal would involve giving up our virtues and taking on another’s vices. Suddenly jealousy lost its delicious appeal.
So I’m enlightened, right? Freed of the fetters of envy that affect ordinary men and women? Uh, no. When I turned thirty-three, I was a little depressed. Why? Jesus Christ died at thirty-three and look at all that He accomplished. I wasn’t living up to his standard by a long shot. Okay, okay – I got over this when I admitted He might be a bit of an exception (being God and all).
But there was another comparison I would make. When I was twelve, I would walk to John Adams Middle School for 6th grade in small town Iowa. I played summer baseball and biked for miles on my ten-speed bike. I listened to Motley Crue, got in trouble at the Hy-Vee grocery store for sneak-peeking an adult magazine and I kissed my first girlfriend, Amy (incidentally, MY daughters will never go to a birthday party that allows dancing in a dimly-lit garage…ever). My dad and I would pheasant hunt and I would stay out too late playing neighborhood kick the can.
Meanwhile, two-hundred-and-eighteen years ago, a (similarly-aged) twelve year old boy was conducting a symphonic piece of such sublime beauty that it was staggering (please listen to it and tell me that you disagree).
In the midst of a tireless schedule of European touring, performing and composing, the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was commissioned to compose and preside over the music for the dedication/consecration of the Orphanage Church (Waisenhauskirche) in Vienna, Austria. Mozart would not only deliver a breathlessly received Solemn Mass in C minor (Missa Solemnis in C Minor, K. 139 or Waisenhausmesse/Orphanage Mass) of which the above Kyrie clip is the first of six movements, but he would compose and include an additional trumpet concerto and offertory (both lost to history), conduct a choir of orphans and sing in the motets all while “in the presence of the Imperial court” including Empress Maria Theresa. And, as recorded, it would be received with exuberance,
“The whole of the music…has been newly composed for this solemnity by Wolfgang Mozart, the little son aged 12 (but already well known for his talents) of Herr Leopold Mozart,… [who] performed by himself to general applause and admiration, and conducted with the greatest accuracy; and apart from this he also sang in the motets.”
All of this and he was only 12. *Sigh* And as everyone knows, this was simply the beginning of an incomprehensibly prodigious career. He would die in 1791 just shy of his thirty-sixth birthday and his legacy is still unmatched. For sheer achievement, please look at this link. It is utterly stunning. Utterly. Stunning.
Nonetheless, I will “let Chuck worry about Chuck”. I will faithfully worship Christ. And I will endlessly admire Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. At times, yes at times, I can have a (big) little inferiority complex, and I may never live up to the traits and virtues in others that I admire and seek to emulate. And do you know what? That’s okay. Because I am walking my own walk as a husband and father, physican and writer, friend and all-around-goofball. Am I growing? Yes. Am I striving? Absolutely. But am I also content, truly content, in my own skin? Without question. And that is the perfect life to lead…beyond comparison.