Seraphina's Story

When I was 15 years old I was a counselor at a camp for children with challenges. I was in charge of a gaggle of 10 year olds who were hearing impaired with one child that was both visually and hearing challenged. Now the girls were only in my charge in the mornings and evenings, otherwise I was teaching crafts and they were grouped differently for various activities. In the evening, my job was to make sure they'd taken care of their teeth and hair and to settle them down for the night. I signed stories with a flashlight making shadows play on the cabin wall… I braided their hair and polished their toenails… this was all fun, but communicating with Seraphina our one visually impaired girl was tougher. I tried signing into her hand, but I was pretty miserable at it, she would push my hand away shaking hers off to let me know that I stunk at that form of communication. I tried telling her stories with the other girls signing onto her hand but again – I and the 10 year olds were not very adept. I knew that it was my job to assist her in making friends and to be her friend myself, but each attempt came with a stiff shoulder and her back turned squarely to me to let me know that my feeble attempts were not appreciated.

Two miserable weeks for her and for me went by… then one day, at the creek, while I was picking oak and maple leaves to press into clay, I spotted a river rock shaped into an almost perfect heart. I picked it out of the water, pushed off the mud and as I was rinsing it I noticed a group of hikers just passing the other side of the creek. There was that Seraphina, my one silent and sad camper. I waded through the creek, tapped her shoulder and felt it stiffen beneath my hand (she always knew when it was me). I took her hand and pressed the wet river stone into it. I touched her cheek to let her know that it was hers… she felt it and smiled for the first time I'd seen all summer. I felt that smile all the way through my wet socks and to the depth of my soul. A few days later, I carved a wood bead into a heart shape and made her a necklace; I hid it under her pillow and found her wearing it the next day. I'd like to say that I became an awesome signer and that we became great friends; alas she did not connect well with anyone, but she definitely smiled when she found a clay heart in her shoe and looked pleased when on top of her clothes in her open suitcase was a wrapped heart shaped cookie. At the end of the month Seraphina went home, she hugged me before she left; I cried and she pretended not to notice the tears I left on her cheek. I took her address (I got it from a staff member) and after a month or so I found some velvet fabric scrap at home, stitched a little heart sachet, filling it with gardenia leaves and buds from our yard. I mailed it off and within a week received a letter from Seraphina transcribed by her mom. Her Mother wrote to thank me for the gifts to Seraphina and the friendship I'd given her at camp. It warmed my heart and I'd love to say that I sent off a heart every week, but I was a busy 15 year old with a shiny new drivers license (this was Louisiana), High School Chemistry and Softball games to pitch… I did send several more silly heart gifts, always with a quick return letter from Seraphina and her mom. One heart with letter did not get a reply – I was surprised and wrote again.

Many weeks later I received a satin lined box with all of my hearts in it, Seraphina had quite suddenly passed away her Mother wrote, but my letters and hearts had made her last year special – she felt loved just for being her. She urged me to share the hearts with other people to touch their lives the way I had Seraphina's, but I just couldn't do it. I tucked that box of hearts and letters away.

Once in a great while I would open it, touch the velvet, run my hands over the roughly carved wood and feel guilty for not having done more, communicated better… regret can be an ugly thing, halting you, stopping you from moving forward.

So after many years (as in 25ish) I read a wonderful "handmade heart" story on the artist Stephanie Lee's blog, it made me realize that I had an unfinished heart story to tell. The advice given me all those years ago by that grieving mom was to continue to show love in a simple way. So I pulled out a bag of clay and started forming hearts… you know, not perfect - little fist sized hearts. As I created them, I thought about some of the people I couldn't wait to send them to: My husband's cousin in Montana; she writes a great letter, a sweet family in Melbourne that welcomed me into their home a few years back, one of my children's teachers who just found love… each heart has become precious to me and the feeling of happiness it brings me in making them is worth their weight in gold.

I encourage you to surprise someone with it…hide it in your child's sock drawer, pack it in your husband's toiletry bag when he leaves for a trip and see where it will show up next. Perhaps you have a story to tell and a letter to write to someone and this heart is the perfect thing to send along with it… Right here and right now there isn't a corner of the globe that couldn't use a little dose of love, a simple gesture to make a day brighter.