Ten years ago I was hired as the marketing director of a WNY continuing care retirement community. It was a great job with a big salary, a staff of 5 and a community of almost 100 seniors to sustain and grow. There were only two drawbacks to this gig–I was hired for my community connections more than my actual expertise (translation:I was under experienced ) and my administrative assistant, an outspoken woman named Betty, plainly resented me for my lack of experience. .
Every work day I would approach Betty’s desk with questions and ideas about marketing the company and everyday she would make me feel as if I was being reprimanded by the principal for inappropriate thoughts and deeds. It was an impossible situation over which I had little control as Betty had worked with the company for years. She knew the industry inside and out and no matter how capable and well-connected I might be, she held knowledge much greater than mine— and no apparent desire to share.
Being hard-headed Irish, I made up my mind that I was going to win this war of wills. I began developing my own brand of marketing and blended it with the already established company plan. I also stopped asking Betty for her approval and instead outlined my marketing plans and defined her role in executing them. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it got us started in a semi- workable truce. That is until B day.
The scenario was familiar. I was at Betty’s desk explaining a marketing idea. She was listening with that look of, “seriously???” on her face. As I finished speaking, she launched into a litany of the ways my ideas were useless and the ways she knew better. Without thinking, my Irish temper took over any semblance of professionalism. I looked Betty in the eye and blurted out the unthinkable. “You know, you really are a bitch.”
The silence between us felt like an electric current ready to explode from my verbal spark. Fearing for my safety, if not my life, I took a step back from Betty’s desk. Watching her closely I waited to see which way I should duck to avoid her wrath or worse yet some kind of physical retribution. Then, in an unimaginable moment, Betty sat back in her chair and let out a laugh that filled the room. She continue to amaze me by speaking words that immediately redefined our relationship. “Yep and I don’t care. I speak my mind and know what I’m talking about”. It was in that moment that I realized Betty was not trying to be combative. She was just telling me the truth of the situation in which we were working, directly and honestly— a lot like me.
From that point, Betty and I became aligned as office workers and genuinely connected as friends. She shared her business knowledge and I respectfully followed her lead. I added in my ideas and she allowed them, even grudgingly throwing praise my way on occasion. I became friends with her family and witnessed her unwavering devotion to all of them. She adopted me as family and held me in my sorrows and celebrated my joys. And throughout it all, I continued to call her a bitch and she continued to laugh in a pattern of friendship that had become solely ours.
Yesterday Betty’s daughter texted that her mom was rushed to the hospital with a variety of ailments and inconclusive diagnoses. At this point she is being tested in a variety of ways while struggling to rebound. And while I am sure the doctors and nurses will figure out a way to help my friend, i have my own treatment plan. I’m going to go to the hospital, hold Betty’s hand and tell her that she really is a bitch and way too mean to be sick…
…and then I’m going pray with my Sunday best devotion that God agrees..