Paper Hearts and Butterballs

In the midst of our farewell dinner last night, a sudden flood of paper hearts fluttered through the air and gracefully scattered our water glasses, plates, and hair. The swell of thin red paper accompanied a charming restaurant band, prompting us all to smile goofily and sway our shoulders to the music. 

After a few minutes the music lulled and the question became: what do we do with all these little red hearts everywhere?


One of my new favorite people proposed a game. She told us to gather the hearts nearest to our seats. The hearts were now to represent tokens of gratitude, and we were to spend them on the people surrounding us.

One by one we began offering affirmations and thank yous to the now familiar faces after five short but very full days in Bogota.

“I admire your sense of community and your leadership abilities that draw in everyone around you and make you an amazing leader.”

“I love you because you love me and even when I’m being the biggest bitch in the world you understand why.”

“Thank you for your honesty in our discussion tonight, I learned a lot.”

“I love your stories about your students because they always show how much you love them, and I love to hear them.”

By the end of the activity we were all radiating in our compliments both given and received.

And the best part of the story is that this wasn’t the first recent experience I’ve had with conscious acts of gratitude this week. A couple of days ago at the lunch table we played Pass the Butterballs. The name really just originates from the fact that a small plate with two butterballs resting on it was the easiest feasible object to pass from person to person. As was such, we took turns holding the plate and responding to a couple of different prompts conjured to make us more aware of our positive experiences in Colombia (and in response to a lot of negativity we heard from people convening after two months in their designated locations around the country). 

Amongst other things we shared what about Colombia inspired us, (for me it was dancing in my kitchen with my roommates). It made us all a bit more appreciative of experiences, and a lot more happy than listening to complaints.

And speaking of complaints, I often use this blog to express varying levels of discontent with myself and/or my society. So I wanted to write something positive today, something that expresses my appreciation for the people with whom I just got to spend a wonderful week talking about all the things that I just cannot express in my broken Spanish. I’m not sure if it’s the people I’m lucky enough to be around, or the fact that we spend way too much time in each other’s company at restaurant tables, but one way or another, I have benefited from deliberate attempts to recognize the gifts we receive in each other and from our live experiences in this new country we currently call home.

And conveniently enough, there has been a recent push for empathy and emotional education in articles from NY times and Huffington Post, as well as this amazing video. So it’s nice to be able to write a testament to the experiences I’ve recently had that, at least to me, accurately reflect the arguments written and shared around the internet. 


Yes, I know this is a very cheesy post.  But I really just want to get in one more act of gratitude before I fully get back into my Cali life. And I want to share it not just with the paper heart crew, but with all the people who listen, share, and love in my life every day. Next time I get some butterballs in my hands I’ll send them your way. 


One response to “Paper Hearts and Butterballs

  1. Andrea C. Maker

    Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I am grateful for you, my dear Elena Grateful Maker.

    Love you bushels,


    Sent from my iPhone

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