fifteen months ago, i took pieces of construction paper, bright red, soft pink, and scattered them across a dining room table. pencil in hand, i traced little hearts and cut each one out, nearly fifty of them in all. and as i said my goodbyes during that last week in liberia, i’d slip a tiny paper heart into each girl’s hand. she would look at me with tears in her eyes, and i’d pull her close and hold her near as we cried. the hearts were merely a symbol, i explained. though my body was leaving, much of my heart was not. janet, leemue, mercy, jumah–each of them kept a heart. so did rose, princess, janjay, kamah; and gormaloh and hannah and siah and caroline. and on and on it goes…
looking back, i was never much concerned with leaving a legacy. i cared more about those construction paper hearts:: not much to look at on the surface, but rich with meaning, a significance only they and i could understand. and that–well, that was enough for us.
today, one of the girls pulls me aside. “auntie,” she whispers, “look! i still have it!” opening her hand slowly, she shows me a red heart, folded up neatly in her palm. it’s tattered a bit ‘round the edges, and time and dirt have dulled its color. but she kept it nonetheless:: a tiny paper heart, a promise that i wouldn’t forget. “i knew you’d come back for us,” she smiles, slipping her free hand into mine. we sit like that for a while, not speaking, a red heart clenched tightly in her fist.
the thing is:: this world needs more tiny paper hearts. all of us, we need to be people who love, deeply. we need to be people who give our hearts away. because your heart? it’s beautiful, simply…beautiful. and i know; that’s a word that gets tossed around a lot, and sometimes, it loses its meaning. but i can think of no other word that fits here, dear heart. yours is rich and full, and it’s got something that this world needs.
i’ve given a lot of paper hearts out over the years, and you know what i’ve learned along the way? love; it’s not for the faint of heart. love’s not always the stuff of movies, sweet and easy and wrapped up neat with a bow. love’s a risky business. you’re giving a piece of yourself away, and that can be a scary thing. what if that other person is careless with your heart and doesn’t cherish it the way he should? what if she takes that tiny paper heart of yours and rips it to a million shreds?
Photo by Soumit // Flickr // Creative Commons
though maybe, just maybe:: she’ll keep that heart and treasure it. maybe he’ll fold it up neatly in the palm of his hand and keep you safe there.
maybe, just maybe (and i think i’m right about this one):: loving other people is worth it all.