Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and Piper knows it. She calls it “Heart Day,” which is totally adorable in itself, but not half as much as her preparations for what everybody else considers to be a tertiary holiday. Hand-crafted receptacle for all the cards she plans on receiving? Locked that masterpiece down last month. Candy for you, me, and everyone we know? Got it three weeks ago. A royal selection of hand-curated Valentine’s Day cards to ensure a bespoke and timely holiday greeting? Got that too. In fact, it seems there is little left to be done but to spread the treasury of love she has saved up for us all.
While it might seem that such great lengths are simply the whims of a four-year-old girl who likes to shop and craft, I have come to realize they are not. Stop to consider what Piper has been through. She’s been under general anesthesia 39 times since June. She’s had brain surgery and lives with a port in her chest. Her left eye is permanently turned inward such that she sees double a lot of the time. Instead of going to the hospital once a decade like the rest of us, she goes weekly. She walks (indeed, runs) even though she struggles to lift her right leg anymore. She is losing more and more of the blonde hair she loves with each passing day. Nose bleeds of varying severity are a routine part of life. She was forced to become left-hand dominant when her right hand lost its strength and dexterity. In response, she has undergone 5 weeks of an occupational therapy program where we literally wrap up her left hand to remind her to use the right. She takes three kinds of chemotherapy drugs, endures regular blood draws, and has a compromised immune system and essentially no platelets. We tell her she has to get poked so the hospital can interview her blood in a laboratory and ask it what’s going on inside her body. This almost always wins a smile, before tears resume and we have to hold her down while she pleads with us to protect her. On top of this, she is nearly 8 months into the 6-to-9 months her doctors gave her to live. But for Piper, exceeding expectations is nothing new. So, as we have since the beginning, we hold tight to hope. Hope that her body continues to respond to the medicine, hope that she continues to be happy, hope that she is the 1%.
The fact that Piper has any love left to give is amazing. The fact that she has so much is deeply beautiful and full of meaning. It serves as a reminder that we all have goodness, and kindness, and love to give all the time. No matter what happens to us. No matter what is taken from us. No matter how bad it gets. Even when we think we can’t.
Piper may be young, but we can all learn something from her Heart Day fervor: There is never a bad time to care about another person, and there is no circumstance which can bar us from elevating the human experience with compassion and solidarity. For as long as we are able to breathe, we can say “I love you.” For as long as we are able to hear, we can listen. For as long as we can lift our arms, we can embrace somebody who needs embracing. And for as long as we can put Hello Kitty tattoos into cheap, tiny Valentine’s Day cards showcasing cute little puppies, we can and should cover them with princess stickers and affix them to a box of chalky hearts in an expression of the goodness we have to give. We will all be the better for it.
Happy Heart Day.