John and I met her while taking our dog, Max for a walk in our neighborhood.
It was the flourishing gardens, and their vast contrast to her small, ramshackle house that originally caught our eye.
We often saw her out in the yard, digging, planting and watering at all hours of the day.
She was a short, robust, elderly woman, probably around seventy years old.
We would wave as we passed her house and she would wave back to us.
The first time we spoke to her, John had stopped to comment on all of her beautiful flowers and thriving vegetable gardens.
She told us her name was Cristiana, as she smiled with not only her mouth, but also with her sparkling blue eyes.
John and I both liked her immediately.
As the months passed, our dog walks led to personal tours of Cristiana’s garden, laughter and many conversations.
“Cristiana likes me, Erin, but she really seems to have an affinity towards you.” John said one day as we passed her house on the way to take Max to the park.
“Do you think so?” I replied, “Because, I think there’s something really special about her, it’s like we have a connection.”
“Well, it shows.” John stated, and I smiled at his comment.
We didn’t know much about Cristiana, other than she was single, Polish and could uproot a rhododendron with an ax like no one you’ve ever seen.
Cristiana, was funny, caring, soft-spoken and for the most part, a pretty private person.
By the time our friendship had reached the one year mark, we though it strange that she would invite us into her yard and share her passion for gardening with us, but never once invited us into her home.
There was a lot we didn’t know about Cristiana, but as with any friendship, we accepted it for what it was and carried on.
Eventually things in our life began to take another direction.
Our neighbor across the street, Madlyn, had an ailing husband.
Then we learned my mother’s cancer had returned.
Life became quite hectic, as we spread ourselves thinly between my mother’s and Madlyn’s home.
Max’s long walks to the park became a thing of the past and our visits with Cristiana ceased.
I felt bad. I worried about Cristiana living alone. I also worried about how she felt about us no longer stopping by to see her.
The seasons changed and we still hadn’t stopped over to visit Cristiana.
It was a hot summer day when we decided to walk Max to the park. Probably not the best decision when it’s over 90 degrees, but for some reason we went anyway.
I felt a twinge of guilt and as we passed Cristiana’s house and headed down the hill to the park.
Thankfully, she isn’t outside. I thought, feeling both embarrassed and as if I had abandoned a friend.
On, the way back up the hill, John, Max and I were panting from the heat and dying to get back home for a cold drink.
I glanced up when we reached the top of the hill and stopped in my tracks.
There was Cristiana standing at the end of the driveway wearing an old house dress and eating a handful of cheese bobka.
Max began running towards her, dragging John behind on the leash.
Before we knew it, we were standing right in front of Cristiana, while Max jumped and yelped his greeting. She patted Max on the head as she tore off a piece of cheese bobka and tossed it on the ground, to Max’s delight.
“It’s so good to see you!” I said, as she gave me a hug. “I’m sorry we haven’t been around, but life has been hard.”
“I know it has,” she replied. “Please come here, there’s something I want to give you.”
We followed Cristiana up the driveway and into her backyard, as Max happily lapped up the trail of crumbs from the cheese bobka.
On a table near the house laid a pile of beautiful, freshly cut flowers from Cristiana’s garden. Her hands worked quickly as she formed them into a bouquet.
“This is for you, Erin.” She said, as she placed the most enormous bouquet I had ever seen into my arms.
“Thank you Cristiana.” I replied, shocked by what just transpired.
“Those flowers are absolutely gorgeous!” John added. “Thank you so much.”
“Cristiana, do you have something cold to drink?” John asked. “Maybe a bottle of water? I think Max could use a drink too, especially after that cheese bobka.”
“I don’t have anything cold.” Cristiana replied, “My refrigerator died, well, it was old and I just have some stuff in a cooler on the porch.”
We talked for a few minutes, but we all knew that it was too hot of a day to stand in the sun.
As John and I made the long walk back home we became fixated on the fact that Cristiana didn’t have a working refrigerator.
“John, she can’t survive without a working refrigerator.” I said with concern, “There has to be something we can do.”
“We certainly can’t afford to buy her a refrigerator,” John said. “But I agree, we have to do something.”
“Well, maybe somehow we can… we have to find a way.” I stated.
Once back at our house, and after having a cold drink, John got on the computer and searched for a refrigerator.
“Erin, come here and look at this!” He yelled.
I ran to see what he was so excited about.
“Here’s a 4.3 cubic foot, dorm room refrigerator. Perfect condition. Five minutes away. Fifty bucks.”
“How big is that?” I asked.
“It’s one of those tall college refrigerators.” John replied, “We can fit it in my car and have it at Cristiana’s in twenty minutes!”
“Oh, please call!” I told John. “I hope that they still have it… I hope they’re home.”
Someone answered on the second ring.
They were at home and would be waiting for us.
We could pick up the refrigerator immediately.
I let out a squeal of delight!
“Let’s go!” John said, grabbing his car keys.
We got to the house in no time, it was literally five minutes away.
The refrigerator was in perfect condition and John and I were beyond thrilled.
“So, you have a kid in college?” The seller asked.
“No, we’re buying it for a neighbor up the street…” I began, as I explained the story.
We removed the accessories from the fridge and the seller helped John get it into the back seat of our car.
I turned to pay the seller for the refrigerator.
“Forty bucks will do.” He said, as he gave me a hug.
“Thank you.” I replied, “I really appreciate it.”
We arrived at Cristiana’s and carried the college refrigerator up the driveway and into the screened in porch.
“What’s this?” Cristiana asked with tears in her eyes.
“We got you a refrigerator,” John and I replied.
“Thank you,” Cristiana managed to say. I’m not sure if she looked more shocked or relieved, maybe it was a mixture of both.
Together we began moving food and beverages from the cooler as well as from the broken refrigerator in her small house.
“Are you sure you want this refrigerator out on the porch?” John asked.
“It’s better here.” Cristian replied, “There isn’t much room in the house.”
When the job was complete, Cristiana took me by both hands.
“Erin, I have something to tell you, that I haven’t told anyone since I moved here.” She said.
“You can tell me anything, Cristiana.” I replied.
“I’m a retired nun. I prayed for you, for this. I asked God for help and I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen, but I trusted him.”
I stood looking at her in disbelief.
“And there’s one more thing, you and John are the angels I prayed for. Thank you.”
I have thought about Cristiana’s words many times since that day. I’ve also thought of all of the coincidences, all of the things that so easily fell into place, and then I remind myself that there are no coincidences.
What I’ve learned about generosity, I learned through practicing it. I have been fortunate enough to be on both the giving and receiving end, many times.
True generosity comes from following your heart, giving outside of your comfort zone, even and sometimes beyond your means, logic or reasoning.
And I know this: don’t be afraid to follow the direction of your heart, it will never lead you wrong.
Much love and good thoughts,
Erin Cooper Reed