By Ingrid Sapona
If you’ve ever worked with a realtor, you’re familiar with
the concept of comparables. For example, if you’re trying to set the asking
price for your 60 year-old, 1200 square foot bungalow, you’d begin by looking
at the price of recent sales of similar homes in your neighborhood. You
wouldn’t look at the sales price of a 3200 square foot McMansion down the
street that someone built five years ago after tearing down a bungalow, or the
duplex across the street. They just aren’t comparable. The point of a comparable
is that it’s an objective measure – a comparison of apples to apples.
My mind turned to thoughts of comparables after comments I
heard at two different get-togethers I was at on the weekend. The first event
was a small party to celebrate the 93rd birthday of a family friend.
Of the five of us at the lunch, I was the only person under 75. All the others
were remarkable seniors who live on their own in their own homes. In fact, the
lunch was at the home of the birthday girl! Though each has had ups and downs
(they’ve all outlived their spouses and each has had some medical issues over
the years), they all have their mental facilities and a joie de vivre.
But, as is often the case when friends get together, there
was some complaining and commiserating. I noticed there seemed a common thread
to their frustrations: they complained about not being able to do some of the
things they used to. For example, one of them complained that she can no longer
get up on a chair to reach things or to clean. Another complained that she can’t
move heavy furniture around like she used to.
They didn’t complain about
loneliness, or sickness, which are the kinds of things you’d think a senior
might complain about. Instead, their complaints focused on not being able to do
what they did when they were younger. While I can understand feeling nostalgic
about what they used to be able to do, I couldn’t help think that the
comparison was ridiculous. They should
be comparing their skills and abilities to other octogenarians or 93-year olds
– not to themselves at 40, or 50, or even 60!
A remark a friend made at a dinner the next day also brought
the notion of comparables to mind. My friend made the comment as she was putting
the finishing touches on a lovely feast she had single-handedly prepared for Canadian
Thanksgiving. For the dinner party she made a turkey and gravy, stuffing, potatoes,
green beans, squash, cranberry relish, and kale salad. By my count, that’s seven
dishes – and each of them was fancy: the mashed potatoes were laced with
homemade pesto, the kale salad had roasted turnips, hazelnuts, and pomegranates
with a tasty maple dressing… You get the picture.
Anyway, as she was cooking she lamented that because of a back
problem she’s had for some time, she “no longer entertains”. I pointed out that
she was making a meal fit for a king and that to most people, that would
certainly count as entertaining! She quickly dismissed my comment and changed
I know her pain is real and it has forced her to modify many
of the things she does, which I’m sure is frustrating. But I also think that
she’s not being fair to herself by comparing what she was able to do when she
didn’t have the chronic pain she now has. Indeed, my comment was intended to encourage
her to take stock of all the work she put in to that meal for the five of us.
I can understand the temptation of looking back at things we
used to be able to do but that we no longer can do or that now require more
effort than they used to. After all, there is an obvious common denominator
between our old selves and our current self. But it’s a flawed comparable. We
aren’t the same person we were X years ago.
Think about it – in your youth you were probably thrilled to
earn $2/hour to baby sit, or felt rich if you got $5 to cut the lawn. Can you
imagine offering to baby sit the neighbor’s kids for a couple of hours or cut
their lawn for the cost of a Starbucks venti-size latte? Sure, you might do it,
but chances are your motivation for doing so would be different than it would
have been at 14. Now you’re likely to do so out of kindness, not to earn pocket
I know it’s hard to apply an objective measure like a
comparable when it comes to personal things, but I can’t help think that doing
so can be reassuring, if not downright empowering! After all, I don’t know many
93-year-olds who are still hosting friends for lunch in their own home, or how
many others with chronic back pain are making seven-course meals for friends.
© 2014 Ingrid Sapona