ELIZABETH GROENING/CHRONICLE PHOTO
Standing in her “fairy garden” in Springfield, Aloha Heart’s home is known in town for its signs with positive messages. The longtime resident makes a point of helping others in the community.
SPRINGFIELD – Aloha Heart knows that smiles can save lives. How? Well, she says one saved her in 1975.
Heart, 77, said the simple act of a stranger pulled her from the depths of despair.
Back then, Heart said she was feeling worthless. Between getting a divorce, her dad’s recent death, and her mom’s battle with cancer, she was experiencing the darkest days of her life in the mid-1970s. In an attempt to avoid a painful custody battle, Heart made the “heartbreaking decision” to leave her children in the care of their father, her ex-husband.
She’d been a stay-at-home mom and her world had revolved around the couple’s children. Nonetheless, her ex-husband was financially stable and could provide for them in a way that she couldn’t.
“The months that followed were anguishing,” Heart said. “I felt no relief from the pain of living without my children.”
She was working as a nurse’s aide to help cover the bills until a job in her field of teaching opened. One rainy day, when Heart was especially worried for her 4-year-old son’s emotional well-being, a miracle took place in the humble hallways of a nursing home.
“My heart was heavy with grief and feelings of desolation,” she recalled. “There was no end in sight. I felt I could no longer live with this pain and I wanted to die.”
Around 7 a.m. that morning, Heart watched a young man – perhaps 16 years old – push a food cart out of the kitchen doorway. He spotted her all the way from the other end of the long corridor. The man shot Heart a smile that brought her “immediate solace and healing.”
“I felt my emotional body realign,” she said. “It was at that moment, I knew my son was, and would be, just fine. A smile from afar healed my life.”
Heart thanked the man a few weeks later, when she saw him getting on his motorcycle. In response to her gratefulness, he cried and explained that never before had anyone told him he’d done anything of purpose. The two strangers shared a hug and never saw each other again, but his small act of kindness changed Heart’s own heart forever.
“Through God’s grace and power, that smile lifted me to the realization of God’s love and care for all of us,” she said.
Since that day, Heart makes a conscious effort to spread joy to whomever she comes across. By simply being kind to Trader Joe’s employees over the years, she’s received seven free bouquets of flowers. When she’s on the phone with credit card representatives and they ask “Is there anything else I can do?” she says, “Yes, if you’re willing, would you join me in being loving and kind to whoever comes across your path? Even if they have polka dots and you don’t like their eyebrows?” Usually, she said, this will lead to fruitful conversations. Heart has even been invited to weddings just from talking nicely to people on the phone.
“We do not have to know each other to love each other,” she said.
Heart has witnessed her own kindness save someone’s life, just like that man’s smile helped save hers in the ’70s. She likes to put up encouraging signs staked in front of her quaint, lemon-colored Springfield home. A couple of years ago, a woman knocked on Heart’s door and told her, “A year ago today, I walked down your street and read your ‘Don’t give up’ and ‘You matter’ signs. That same day, I had decided I didn’t want to live anymore, but I am here to tell you that those signs saved my life.”
Whether it be a smile or a sign, Heart’s experiences prove that spreading love can be easy.
“Love is revolutionary. I know it is,” she said. “My story is multiplied billions of times all over this planet. It’s simple human love.”
Every morning, Heart prays that she may be the presence of love and kindness. As a human, she still experiences sadness. She deals with negative feelings by letting herself feel them. When she’s ready to snap out of it, she remembers what her Auntie Mae used to say, “It never gets darker than midnight. The sun always comes out.”
Heart cares deeply about social issues, so she’s become involved with Springfield’s Alliance for Equality and Respect (SAfER). She also offers to help declutter people’s homes, so they feel less “overwhelmed, stuck and suffocated” in their homes. In her spare time, she does yoga and lifts weights. More than anything, she’s enjoying getting older.
“When it’s my time to go, I’m going to take a big, big breath and exhale laughing,” Heart said.