The trip to Romania was an extraordinary success on multiple levels — personal, professional, and, above all, spiritual. Amidst the numerous events that unfolded during those six days, there is one particular experience that moved me to tears, and I would like to share it with you.
One morning in Bucharest, as I strolled through the neighborhood where I grew up, heading to see my parents, an old lady caught my attention. She was making her way back from church, struggling with two heavy bags that seemed burdensome for someone of her age and strength.
In Romanian culture, it is considered a sin to leave an elderly person grappling with a heavy load or standing in a crowded bus while you, as a younger individual, remain seated without helping. Having grown up with this ingrained sense of responsibility, I didn’t hesitate to extend my help to her. To my surprise, she gratefully accepted, sighing as though I had saved her from the weight of the world.
As we walked together, she began sharing her struggles with bed bugs at home, explaining the need for someone to help her remove the old bed. I could relate to her predicament, as my parents had encountered a similar problem recently. To eliminate these blood-sucking pests, one must discard the bed, rugs, and anything that could harbor these tiny vampires.
During our mile-long journey to her apartment, she continuously praised God for answering her prayers. Her name was Petruta, and as I got to know her more, I discovered she was born in 1939, making her almost 85 years old. Despite her age and current situation, she possessed a charming demeanor and a witty sense of humor. Living alone with her cat, Ciucurel, she took care of her own manicure, pedicure, dressed elegantly for any occasion, and astonishingly still worked as a helper, cleaning apartments, cooking, and washing windows for others.
As we neared her building, the realization sank in that this elderly lady, whom I had only met minutes ago, was inviting me into her home to remove her bed. Once we entered her apartment, despite the modernity of the heavy entrance door, the interior felt like a time capsule. The small frames adorning her walls, the furniture, the scent, and the cramped rooms and kitchen were all testament to her age. Petruta had witnessed the construction of that building from its foundation and was now the sole remaining original resident.
After she removed the blood-stained blankets from her mattress, Petruta offered me an axe to dismantle her futon. However, it proved unnecessary, as the piece of furniture was so old that it crumbled at the slightest touch. With minimal effort, I broke it down and carried the debris downstairs. I was fortunate enough to fit the futon inside the tiny elevator; otherwise, I would have had to carry it down the stairs from the 6th floor. The dust billowed off the dismantled bed, making the apartment look more like a construction zone than an old lady’s home.
Once the ruins were downstairs, I asked Petruta where she would sleep. She joyfully replied, “On the floor,” as if referring to another luxurious master bedroom upstairs. Perplexed, I inquired about her plans for acquiring a new bed. She admitted uncertainty, explaining that her son might give her some money if he had any to spare. I knew exactly what that meant.
Without a second thought, I reached into my pocket and handed her all the money I had, which was sufficient to purchase a new bed. Her gratitude overwhelmed me, and she insisted on repaying me, cooking me a meal, and even cleaning my parents’ apartment as a token of her appreciation. These gestures affirmed that I was indeed doing the right thing. However, when she tearfully asked me why I was doing this, I found myself at a loss for words. I, too, began to cry.
“Why?” she asked. And in that moment, I understood. Because it was the right thing to do. Because she was a mother, and I had a mother too. Because we all need help, especially as we grow old.
The emotions of the encounter overwhelmed me, and I struggled to process them. On one hand, I felt immense joy for being able to assist her. On the other hand, I warned her about the incredible fortune she had in running into me instead of someone who might have harmed her, and advised her not to take such risks again. Furthermore, her attitude towards life’s challenges and her ability to speak about them with such nonchalance and humor deeply captivated me. She never portrayed herself as a victim but rather as a triumphant soul.
Petruta always finished her sentences with the words, “I’m doing really well. Everything is okay.” She enjoyed going for walks, dancing with her cat, and still held hope of finding a life companion.
Another remarkable aspect of Petruta’s life was that she had never dined at restaurants or eaten salmon before. I was able to change that by inviting her to join me and my parents for lunch the day after we met. Before departing, I made sure to visit her once more and give her a warm hug. It had been so long since someone had embraced her that I had to guide her on how to wrap her arms around me and squeeze tightly.
I consider myself incredibly blessed to have encountered Petruta and to have had the opportunity to assist a soul like hers. The touching video above captures the entire experience in a few minutes, and it is my utmost pleasure to introduce you to Petruta.