Kristina’s Corner is a collection of stories that come out of my own lived experiences as a neighbor in the Longfellow Community of South Minneapolis. They are stories of connection, stories of learning and stories of place. They come out of an effort – sometimes intentional but often accidental – to pay attention to the beauty, the pain and the complexity of our human experience, right here in this little corner of the universe I inhabit. Writing about these stories helps me deepen my roots in this place while also expanding my curiosity about what God is up to here and what that means for how I am called to show up and be a neighbor. In sharing these stories, I hope they invite the reader into a similar curiosity about God’s call to you, rooted in your place.
Written by Kristina Frugé
Small moments can matter in big ways. I find this to be good news. Our days are filled with small moments, many of them pass by insignificantly. Sometimes though, we catch on to them. Sometimes, they give us a glimpse into something beyond ourselves – a truth, an idea, a comfort, a wake up call, an invitation…
I want to share a story about two small moments that collided into an important invitation for me.
Just a handful of months ago, spring was fighting its way through a long snowy winter here in South Minneapolis. As a lifelong Minnesotan, I know how to enjoy the winter season. But winter tends to outstay its hype in my opinion. People talk about the detrimental impacts of the lack of sunshine and vitamin D in the wintertime and its effect on people’s mental health. But the longevity of the cold encourages a lack of connection with other humans as well. This deficiency is also unhealthy I believe. We lose some of our social ability in the winter, finding it easier to stay cloistered and quiet. And when we do go out in public, we have permission to stay hidden under layers of warm winter gear. It takes way more energy to make eye contact let alone engage in conversation with a passerby. At least, this is how it goes for me.
I bundled up on a Saturday morning to pick up some groceries at the store. As I wandered up and down the aisles of produce, pasta and cereal, I was startled by a small child in a shopping cart, parked temporarily near the breakfast foods. His eyes peeked out from under his blue and green striped winter hat and he locked his gaze with mine. He kept focused eye contact with me, craning his head to the side as his dad moved their cart further down the aisle away from my location by the oatmeal. But just before they turned the corner and we fully parted ways, his face broke into a toothy dimpled grin. I gave a little wave as he carted out of view.
My thoughts we jarred loose. Maybe because it had been awhile since I had felt really seen out in public. By seen I mean – had my presence acknowledged – and that acknowledgement expressed so generously through a warm unhindered smile. The winter shivers that had followed me into the store had been settled by this small human. I stood up a little straighter and felt a smile melt across my face. I slowly moved down the rest of the aisle, following the pleasant thoughts of the encounter. Then, a less happy thought showed up. In noticing how nice it felt to be noticed, I realized how often I fail to do the same to others. How often I too keep my gaze down, passing by fellow humans out and about in the world and withhold my own acknowledgement of their presence. This is not how it should be, I thought.
I turned the corner towards the frozen foods where another, more shocking thought found me. What would it be like to not just notice another stranger but to embrace them? A real hug. Not a side arm hug or a quick pat on the back, but a full 20 second, serotonin releasing hug. Like those social experiments you see people share on YouTube or tik tok. What would it be like for two complete strangers to greet and mutually embrace each other?
Standing between the frozen vegetable freezers and the bottled gatorades and bubbly water, I imagined this mysterious hug. My shoulders softened, my breath slowed and I felt something stinging catch in my throat. The imagined hug thawed out the winter hermit in me and managed to push a tear or two down my cheek.
Just a few weeks later after yet another late season snowfall, the sun’s rays were finally getting bolder and warming up our days enough here that the air no longer hurt one’s face. The snow was shifting to slush and the melt was just beginning to stir up scents of earth. All of these things became a great motivator to get out for a short evening walk around the neighborhood with my husband. We grabbed coats, but left the gloves at home, no longer needed.
After making the loop around our handful of blocks, we turned up 40th Street just a couple hundred yards from our home. Stepping around the snow rutted side streets I saw something newly emerging in the melt. Bending over to look more closely I noticed it was a set of keys still partially stuck in the dirty slushy mix. With a little effort, we pried them free, wondering how long they’d been inaccessible to the owner over the winter. My husband said, “No way you’ll ever find who those belong to.” I wiped the slush off the keys with my plaid coat sleeve and pressed the wet lock button on the key fob. The polite beep of a Prius locking dinged just 20 feet away, coming from the car parked across the street.
After attempting to knock on the doors of houses in the vicinity with no luck, we decided to take the keys home and come back with a note to leave on the windshield. It read “Hi neighbor, I found your keys on the street. My name is Kristina, I live nearby. Here’s my phone number….let me know how we can get them back to you!”
The next morning, a text from an unknown number came through: “Hi Kristina. This is Rahul – your neighbor. I just got your note about the keys. Thanks a lot. I can come by and collect them today.” After a few back and forth text messages, Rahul was on his way over to my house to get the keys. We met on my front steps and Rahul quickly jumped into his story of the intense and long-lasting search for the keys. He and his wife bought their house and were moving in over the winter months when the keys went missing during their many trips of loading and unloading. They had even rented a metal detector to try and locate the missing and precious key set which unlocked their car, their old apartment and other important things. They had finally and officially moved into the house permanently 3 days earlier and had regretfully given up on the lost keys. Until he saw my note.
And then, you’ll never guess what happened….
Rahul finished his story and then asked if he could give me a hug.
I felt my shoulders soften again and that familiar feeling from the grocery store stung the back of my throat. I kept the tears inside this time and instead offered a welcoming “Of course!” to his request. I reached out to hug my neighbor as we stood on my well-shoveled steps with planters of dried out spruce tops adorning either side of us. Winter’s ways were slowly seceding their hold and making way for spring.
We made a bit more small talk, mostly about the Longfellow neighborhood we now both shared. I told him it gets a little more fun here in the summer when people are back out and about again. He said he and his wife were looking forward to getting to know more folks and maybe we could get together for a beer to celebrate summer, whenever it finally arrived. I agreed wholeheartedly. We said our goodbyes and went back to our respective days.
It’s worth stating again – small moments can matter in big ways. I find this to be good news because it means that you and I and each person we encounter has the opportunity each day to live into this generous connection we have to one another. We have countless moments where the holy can be brought into view. We can make choices to see our neighbors and take the extra step to be good to each other. My hunch is, that the more we do this in small ways, the bigger transformation it will have on our lives and the lives of those around us. These small moments won’t change oppressive systems or end the many injustices that harm people and the planet we share. But they might remind us why these fights matter. They might give us hope here and now – hope we can experience today. And that hope might resource within us a much needed imagination for what’s possible if we start living more into how we are connected rather than ignoring each others’ humanity.
My particular story of these two small moments isn’t over yet. I’m about to hit “send” on a text to Rahul. It says, “Hi neighbor! Hope you’ve been enjoying having your keys back. Would you and your wife like to stop by for a beer some evening soon?”
Consider this your invitation. Not to my house for beer (although I’m not opposed to that!) but out into your own neighborhood and to the small, but sacred moments to be found there.