Miss Betty and the Hiker

The most difficult thing about writing a weekly column is timing.  That is especially true these days when there seems to be a crisis or two every week.  This week there is an impeachment trial coming yet again.  My deadlines are before the trial has started and my column will be read after it is over.   

Since I cannot write about the most important event of the week, I decided to write about one who has been impacted by everything that is going on.  Her name is Betty, and I will leave it at that.  Those who know me well over the years will realize who I am talking about.  Those who have no idea who Miss Betty is, well let me just tell you that she is absolutely one of the most special people I have ever met.

Betty worked for me for several years.  She brought extraordinary experience to a young company and exuded a calmness amid turmoil.  I will never forget the first time she walked into my office to take dictation.  I realized I did not know how to tell her what I wanted to say.

Betty retired many years ago and left the area to be closer to her children.  We keep in touch through Facebook, like millions of people around the world.  That is one of the good things about Facebook, but Betty experienced one of the negatives.

Betty expressed herself about a political matter.  In the world we live in where the water is always boiling hot, her comment would not have brought the water to even lukewarm.  Nevertheless, she had some pushback from the social media world, and she was horrified.  Her response was to leave Facebook and she said goodbye.  Thankfully, a lot of people who know Betty as well or even better than I do talked her into remaining.  She reluctantly agreed, but vowed to not talk about politics ever again, at least not on social media.

It reminded me about a meal I had some 30 plus years ago.  I was hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I was several weeks into my hike and felt like I was hitting my stride.  I had identified a spot on the map I wanted to have lunch.  By then, calories were everything, as I was hiking ten to fifteen miles each day in the mountains.

As I came up on the rock outcropping that was my destination, there was someone already there.  He had long hair, was shirtless and had a snake tattoo that ran from his shoulder down around his arm.  He was eating his meal with an 18” knife.  We could not have been more different.

I hesitated before he asked me to join him.   For most of my life, this was someone I would have crossed the street if I had seen him coming.  Our accents instantly gave away that we were from different parts of the country. By all appearances, we had nothing in common. 

We spent the next two hours sharing our food, talking about our lives in the past and our hopes for the future.  He was single.  I had two children and a wife back in Donalsonville.  It was an epiphany for me about judging a book by its cover.  It was an extraordinary moment on my amazing journey on the trail.

During this week where we will hear so many negative comments, I am reminded about Betty and the hiker whose name I have long ago forgotten.  Betty is one of the sweetest ladies I have ever met.  She was a joy to work with and brightened everyone’s day in the office.  She loves everyone and everyone loves her.  Yet, a comment about politics brought the harsh reality of today’s world to her laptop.  

The hiker, who was on the surface so different from me, left me a lasting message that we are the same in more ways than we are different.  I never forgot that chance encounter and have reminded myself countless times of the lesson he taught me; do not judge someone by their appearance.

As we work our way through these challenging days, remember the Betty in your life before you type your critical words for the world to see.  Take a moment to recall the hikers on a rock that you may have met along your own journey and remember what you have in common with those least like you.

One of these people I have known for 40 years.  One I only met for two hours.  They both impacted my life tremendously.  We all have them in our past.   Remember them in your future.

o0o

Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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