Saturday, February 12, 2011

State of the Heart

Shades and Tints
Valentine's Day approaches and I've found no better place to celebrate it than in the playroom of our hospital. It's a place where even the most jaded of hearts opens wide. For someone dedicated to the practice of maintaining an open heart, well, it's a gold mine.

To begin the festivities, I set out materials on the art table--scissors, glue and paper plus the exotics: papers printed with designs inspired by Kente cloth, Japanese silk fabric and Navajo rugs. For good measure, I added ribbons, sequins and pom poms.

Once we'd made our way through decorating some 50 or so empty glove boxes, we began to make Valentines and met up with the good old shape of the heart. It doesn't escape me as I'm writing, all the double entendres that pop up around hearts and hospitals: open heart surgery, infectious love, heart-felt emotions, heart palpitations...etc.

Fortunately, the kids put all that to the side when they come in, dragging their IV poles behind them. They just get to work like the serious artists they are. These last two weeks brought several Spanish speaking girls to the group together with their moms. At the beginning of our time together, they were all so shy, they would simply nod "yes" and "no" to my questions. Any attempts to start a conversation simply died away. I invited the mothers to join us and they also nodded "no" politely but firmly.

Glove boxes transformed
That lasted all of two days, when I decided to throw in a twist and add the concept of shading and tinting to the mix. Using oil pastels, I asked them to draw a heart and to color the inside of the heart one color and the outside of the heart another. The next step was to use a ruler and draw several lines that bisected the heart, going from one end of the paper to the other. This resulted in "a heart divided." Finally, I asked them to use a gray pastel to add shading to one half of each segment and a white pastel to add tinting to the remainder of that segment.

A great idea in theory, but I forgot to factor in manual strength. None of the kids present had enough physical strength to color in the outside. The moms took action. They couldn't let their children's hearts go empty. They each pulled up a small child size chair and began to color. It was only one more step to accepting papers for themselves and taking off on their individual heart.

By the end of this week, we'd made jewelry for the occasion and added several other young children to the mix. The girls were positively bubbly by now. Another Spanish speaking mother arrived with her able five year old boy and complemented me on my Spanish (which honestly is still limited to something like "quieres hacer un corazon?")  I was touched and even more so, because after spending this time together, we had created our own community and as far as "making hearts," they had certainly made mine and it was wide open.


  1. I can't help leaving this read without feeling a heavy heart mixed with a light one.

  2. It's true Lynn--even writing it, I was of "mixed heart." The shading and tinting is an apt metaphor.

  3. I could feel my eyes filling, reading about the girls dragging their IV poles behind them..... but I'm smiling at the thought of them getting stuck into art making and losing themselves for that time spent with you.

  4. I love to do valentines with our kids. I always love to hear what you are doing at the hospital.

  5. This is a lovely story of the infectious (should I use that word in a hospital setting?) power of making art. Happy Valentines Day!

  6. Hi Hannah
    This is such a deeply moving story. Every word holds layers of compassion. As you make metaphors you also make such exceptional meaning.

    Valentine's hugs to you and your open heart.


  7. Greetings dear Hanna,

    I am glad I stop by this day, the eve of Valentine Day. Your story is a balance of joy and sadness, as each part is connected, for one could not exist without the other.

    Thank you for sharing,

  8. Robyn, I think the fact that we all get lost in the art is a saving grace--literally and figuratively! Thank you.

    Claudine--you're right--there is something so wonderfully fresh about making Valentines with kids--and even us big kids!

    Art as infection--I like that Altoon!

  9. I am so touched by your post. What a beautiful message delivered through your patients and their families. The boxes and hearts filling as does your heart. Thank you Hannah.

  10. Donna,--I love the ideas that making metaphors creates exceptional meaning. I've always thought of metaphor as a rich delicious treat!

    Egmont--I'm so glad you stopped by. That balance of sadness and joy, darkness and light are the 2 sides of a coin. As you say, they can't exist without each other.

    Beth--And fill they did. This afternoon, volunteers delivered bags filled with paper valentines from the community and other hospital departments. After I brought one of the decorated boxes into a patient's room, I watched as the boy carefully read each one, giving it his full attention. That sight was worth everything.