• Mary Anderson

Just a Struggling Old Lady Who Likes to Hike

I continue to be surprised at how many different ways something can be viewed. When I meet someone hiking down a mountain while I am hiking up, they often tell me, “You’re almost to the top.” I’ve learned this can mean anything from one to three miles. I’ve passed hikers who tell me there is absolutely no place to camp in the next ten miles. As I walk those miles I note all the great spots I could stop for the night. I have heard hikers say some sections of the trail are horrible, yet I usually find them beautiful. It’s all a matter of perspective.

I am more surprised at the way people view me. I see myself as an old lady plodding along. Yet time after time, the younger kids who are walking twice the daily mileage I am will tell me they want to be like me when they get old. I’ve been called a role model, an inspiration, amazing, and a hero. Really, if they knew what went on in my brain, they would see I am nothing of the sort. I am just a struggling old lady who likes to hike. I was especially surprised a few days ago when someone told me that after she met me she used my story to encourage the younger hikers who seemed on the verge of quitting. I am flattered, but really there are much fitter hikers who are older than I am.

American politics shows the trouble we can get into when perspectives become rigid and polarized. I believe more of us want the same things in life than it appears politically. But too many people’s perspectives have been colored by fear and the influence of some rich and powerful people.

Coming from Vermont and driving to the west has exposed me to a wide array of political perspectives. The animosity between views disturbs me. Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy to try to make large-scale reconciliation happen. What I can do, however, is work on a small scale. I try to see things from other people’s perspectives. I put judgment aside and search for understanding, recognizing that many people on the opposite political spectrum from me are the very ones offering me kindness on the trail. They are people plodding through life the same as I am.

Having posttraumatic stress with serious dissociation has helped me understand how and why people can so easily take well-meaning words or actions and turn them into an insult. They are stuck seeing things from the perspective of the past. I struggled with this for years until I was able to get a handle on it and take responsibility for my interpretations of others’ words and actions. I had to make connections inside myself which helped me separate what was happening in the present from how it felt as I was reliving the past.

I still have a difficult time when my well-meaning words and actions are misinterpreted as hurtful by another. It is not something I intend to do. But here, too, I am learning to change my perspective and alter my reaction. Rather than becoming defensive, intent on righting the wrong I feel is being blamed on me, I am working to see it from the other’s perspective. Doing this is bringing more peace into my life, and I like to think that peace will trickle out into the world in at least some small way. It is the best I can do at this moment of my life.


Above: "Steep scree slope; moon through smoke from fires; beauty in the grasses; I walked through miles of this stuff."

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