If I Compare a Summer’s Day

The 28th leg of the Camino.


If I compare the 18th Sonnet to the 130th Sonnet, I wonder what happened to William. Who knows the order in which they were actually written, but it seems to me the man grew up: fell out of a first love, and became something of a realist. I hope this meant a lasting kind of happiness, if not flush with the high of infatuation, with an ease and delight in things like watching a person “tread”.

I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
     As any she belied with false compare.

E. writes me beautiful love letters. Not sonnets. If he were to write sonnets, I wouldn’t want him to write that I was more beautiful than a summer’s day. (I am most certainly not more temperate.) I am very grateful that someone once did write me such gushing lines: someone so totally flushed with that exquisite experience of infatuation. I’m grateful that I have also written such hyperbolic and purple words. More than once, to more than one person. I would not trade those experiences, but neither would I have them again.

Our guide today asks us to contemplate comparisons. I find it difficult to narrow the field of possible areas for comparison. And I find myself thinking that comparison is an activity that is fundamental to our survival. We categorize the novel things that we encounter by comparing them to what we know. But it has its limitations. Red fruits are poisonous, or delicious, or both. Red-headed men, too.

We look to see what we need to survive. And that seems natural enough: we watched our elders store food for the winter, plan ahead and keep seeds for the next season. But now we live in civilizations where survival means so much more. And we watch what the “healthy” do, want what they have. I wish I could say that this health crisis would point out how absurd our constructed requirements are, but the wealthy are getting tested, getting medical care. The “underprivileged” die. Keeping up with the Joneses can’t be written off as a matter of vanity. It’s one of our most practical survival instincts. At odds with our equally powerful instinct to care for one another.

Researchers have observed Capuchin monkeys who will refuse to work when they see other monkeys doing the same work for less of a reward. The headline reads that “fairness extends beyond humans“, but I wonder if the monkeys aren’t better at it. This is also a kind of comparison: making sure the Joneses keep up with us.

If comparison is a fundamental human – in fact, primate – activity, then how do I want to employ it? From what perspective do I view things, and when is it helpful?

If I have learned anything from E.’s overflowing toolboxes, there is an appropriate tool for every job, but not every tool is appropriate for the job.

What’s to compare?

I know happy people who are wealthy, who have famous friends, who have the envy of others. And I know people who are happy without any of those things.

A summer’s day up in the mountains can be gorgeous. But I have also heard the ice singing on the lake in the dark on a winter’s morning.

 

 

 

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