My Year with Zelda

Little did I know how much helping my neighbor would help me.

Zelda was the first customer I ever turned down—or at least tried to. Years ago I owned a little typing business, and because my husband, Brian, and I lived near a college campus, I never wanted for customers.

Zelda was our neighbor, a squat and jolly middle-aged woman with short graying curls and eyes that almost squinted shut when she smiled. She lived next door for months, but we didn't meet until a friend recommended my services to her. I cheerily agreed to type her master's thesis.

One autumn day, Zelda dropped off her first draft and left me to get started. But when I sat down at my computer and looked at her paper, my heart sank. I scanned page after page until I had to admit I couldn't read a word of it. Her handwriting was completely, amazingly indecipherable.

Thanks to Zelda, I learned to be more welcoming to strangers, despite my first impulse not to do so.

I knocked on Zelda's door, and she invited me in. Before I could hit her with the news, she pointed out objects of interest in her home—pieces of carved Haitian art, woven wall hangings, pictures of glowing black faces with huge smiles—as if she were a museum tour guide. I learned Zelda was a 25-year veteran of the Haitian mission field and was on leave in the U.S. to pursue her master's thesis in nursing.

After a few minutes in Zelda's home, I began to suspect this new neighbor was a pretty special person. So when she got teary-eyed as I explained why I couldn't type the work she'd slaved over, my heart went out to her.

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