The pressure was on. All eyes at the gym were on me. Many months before, while rehabbing a broken shoulder, I made a bold prediction, and now was the day of reckoning. I availed myself to the best coaching available (or the best coaching that I could get for free) and even considered taking performance-enhancing drugs but was afraid that it might shrink my hairline, enlarge my ego and little else.
It was the day before my birthday and thus my last chance to conclude my stated goal of 100 non-stop pushups before I turned a year older. There was a crowd around me as I warmed up.
Actually most of that is not true.
Yes it was the day before my birthday. Yes, it was my last chance to reach a goal I have been shooting for and bragging about since I injured my shoulder a couple years back. But there were no eyes on me and certainly no crowd; I was just one person among many others, both younger and older, lying on the floor ... stretching.
I was giving myself a pep talk and getting ready when I glanced over to see a buff-looking dude across the room stacking several sturdy boxes one on top of the other. He got them to about 5 feet, about the height of his chest. It was almost as if he was making a desk for himself allowing him to read or write while standing up.
My internal pep talk got distracted by my trying to figure out what the heck that young guy was doing. And then, he gave a slight bend in his legs and leaped straight up in the air and landed easily on top of the 5-foot-high stacked boxes. He then lightly jumped back down, bent his legs and immediately sprung back up and landed standing up on top of the topmost box. He did this about 10 times in quick succession.
I was astounded. It was like he had springs in his legs. Now, granted, he was about the same age as my sweat socks, but what he was doing was simply amazing. I'm not sure I could have done that at any age.
Another man might have been made to feel insecure or even inferior witnessing such an astonishing feat of athleticism. Not me, because I'm of the mindset that it is a blessing just to be average.
Especially in this country where average is healthy, well fed, safe, free and comfortable. Now, granted, there are many in America who are none of the above. But when you compare the average American's situation with much of the rest of the world, or even the fate of this nation's citizens as recently as 50 years ago, we are doing fairly well. I feel it is a good lesson in perspective to compare yourself - not to the best - but to the average.
You can pick your preferred affirmation from a host of quotes and slogans like, "The best is the enemy of the good," (Voltaire). Or "I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet," (Anonymous). Or, "Quit your damn bellyaching, I have to wake up every morning next to you and you don't hear me complaining," (my wife).
All expressions say pretty much the same thing: Be happy with what you have because many have much less and one of those persons wakes up every morning, next to me.
Much of circumstance is luck and genetics. Granted, hard work can produce comfort and wealth, but more important than either is health and outlook. In other words, though much of circumstance is luck and genetics, all of happiness is perspective. Be happy for what is offered because what might disappoint you would be a blessing to many others.
Would I like to have the athleticism to jump 5 feet in the air from a standing start? Sure. But do I consider myself more than lucky just to be healthy, living in a place I love, with a person I love in a nation that makes it that much easier than other nations? Absolutely.
I tore my eyes away as that kangaroo across the room was actually stacking more boxes. I had to leave soon and my birthday was rapidly approaching. I got down in pushup position and began my count 1... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... and on and on.
As I was leaving the gym heading home I bumped into Marika, a personal trainer who I have been badgering for free advice for over a year.
"How did you do" she asked, "did you get 100?"
When I told her I fell short, I noticed a look of both disappointment and relief - disappointment that I didn't achieve my goal, relief that I would no longer be bugging her with my solicitations for training tips. I can only assume that my declaration of defeat, rather than admit I had decided to give myself another 12 months, did little to ease her conflicting emotions. The good news is, I'm used to being average and at my age, by my next birthday, I might forget the number.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.