April 18, 2016

Finding my Heart—Wide Open.

heart do not reuse

I was sitting in my son’s room packing up boxes when my cell phone started ringing. I saw that it was the building principal from my high school so, despite it being a Saturday night, I answered.

“Erika, I have some bad news. Leeann passed away today…”

A student at my high school had been ill, but it still came as a shock that someone so young had died. What I was asked to do next I was also unprepared for.

He asked that I call a co-worker and friend to break the news to her. He didn’t feel he could do it. I made the call with a heavy heart and started preparing myself for the following morning, when the crisis team that I am a part of would assemble to craft a plan before school resumed on Monday.

Standing by the window overlooking the snow-covered parking lot, one of my colleagues pointed it out to me—a heart. It was left behind from tire marks in a parking space directly in front of where I was standing. “Do you see it?” She asked enthusiastically.

I tried to disguise my annoyance. “A heart, really?” I said, shaking my head.

She seemed taken aback at my short response. She was right in thinking that it was highly unlike me to think or act this way, so I couldn’t blame her. After all, she had no idea what I was doing when the principal called—boxing up my things because I was moving out and had just filed for divorce.

Hearts, flowers, rainbows and sunshine were the last things on my mind.

Seeing her expression, I softened a little. “I wish I saw them too,” I said, avoiding eye contact.

“All you have to do is be open to seeing them,” she said softly.

Later that evening I was washing dishes in the kitchen. As I reached over to grab a towel off the rack, something caught my eye. The water that had collected on the side of the sink was in the shape of a perfect heart. Goosebumps formed on my arms.

I wrote it off as exhaustion from an emotional day and circumstances in my personal life.

The day of the funeral I volunteered to go with a group of students who would need support. I was chosen because I’ve always been good at holding things together in a crisis. Already slipping into a mode where I could compartmentalize my own emotions, I poured my coffee into the mug, spilling some over the side of the cup.

I’ve always been a bit klutzy, a dribbler, when it comes to pouring beverages. I reached for a paper towel in the break room at work, but before I could wipe up the spill I couldn’t help but notice the coffee was in the shape of a heart.

Tears threatened to sting the back of my eyes as I took out my phone to take a picture before wiping up the spill.

As weeks turned into months, and months turned into years, the hearts kept appearing for me. In the snow, random stickers found on the ground during a run, a heart cloud…you name it and they were present. I would point them out to friends who would in turn send me pictures of “found hearts.”

It was ironic to me that the hearts first started appearing at a time in my life when my heart was so closed off. I get the most pleasure out of opening other people’s minds to seeing the hearts too—knowing all of them are going through their own private battles because, otherwise, why would the hearts appear for them?

A week ago a local news station called me at work. The producer wanted to talk to me about a toy drive that other students in my high school have carried on for Leeann throughout the past three years. I was caught completely off guard when he explained they were doing a story on it and asked to come by with the news crew the following week. He asked me to select faculty and students who would like to speak to the charity and, of course, about Leeann.

The music teacher knew her very well. He was understandably emotional when I asked if he would feel comfortable speaking to the media the following week. He and I talked for longer than I anticipated as he told me how she changed his view on education—and even parts of his life.

I shared my story about the hearts.

“That’s how she passed away. Heart failure,” he reminded me. I had forgotten, or maybe blocked that part of the story out.

“I can’t believe what an impact she had on everyone…even me,” I said, thinking back to the first heart in the snow and all the ones I’ve seen since then.

I had shared with my boyfriend that the local news would be at my high school. I knew at some point I would tell him the whole story about Leeann, but it had been a busy weekend. He just earned his black belt in karate and we were sitting at a local restaurant with his friends and family celebrating. His mom bought him a crystal that had a black stripe in the middle as a gift for earning his black belt.

“And this had your name on it,” she said, pulling out a taffeta bag containing a smooth black stone and handing it to me.

I’ve never been good at receiving gifts. I was both surprised and delighted she had thought of me. I pulled the stone from the bag running my fingers over it. “Take it outside in the light,” she said with a smile.

Pushing the door open to outside, the bright light struck the stone. All at once a heart appeared in the center. I stood in utter disbelief looking up at the sky. I hadn’t told him the story of the hearts. His mom knew nothing of it. How was this possible?

I examined the stone in my hand, black as night with a vibrant heart illuminating the center. Suddenly, I understood it.

My heart was finally open, in the light.

Mine was truly a found heart. “Thank you for the sign Leeann,” I said with a smile before walking back inside to join everyone—with my heart wide open.



Choosing an Open Heart (Even When it Hurts).

Author: Erika Cannavino

Assistant Editor: Hilda Carroll; Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Courtesy of the author via Daniel Johnson, Dagda Photography

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