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Jennifer Thompson

November-December 2022

"The Heart Intact: Contemplations on Matters of Heart"


The Story of the Montana Heart Project


          Once upon a time a young art therapist worked content and happy in her job at an elementary school. “Let’s find a way to reach these children through language, play and art,” she said to the teachers. “Yes,” they replied. She worked with abused and neglected Kindergarten and special needs students. These students did not come from happy homes, but Samantha or Ms. Sam as the students and teachers called her, felt happy because she was able to help others a little bit through art.

          At times the art became theatre and movement. Sometimes sandtray/world play would be the art for the day. Sandtray/world play was Maria Montessori’s name for sandtray therapy. Sandtray days were the days Ms. Sam stayed after school for two hours of cleanup.

          Sometimes painting or oil sticks (another mess-making medium with luscious colors) were used to express feelings and positive qualities. Ms. Sam knew if she could cultivate the goodness that was already there in the hearts of her students, they would have something to depend on in themselves, throughout life.

          Ms. Sam lived out of town in a cabin by a lake. She drove about 45 minutes to school every day. One early, dark morning in winter, as she was leaving to drive to school, the Coots were close to shore murmuring in their language (as they do). They murmured a message to Ms. Sam, “Today you will lose your job.” They were trying to give her a heads-up.

          As you know, Coots don’t speak English. Ms. Sam had listened to the Coots and watched them in the cove next to her cabin over the last two months. She developed a companionship with them. As you know you can do this with many animals, your dog, your cat, your hedgehog.

          Ms. Sam knew Coot murmurs. As she drove to school in the dark morning, she held the message from the Coots in her heart. She wondered.

          That afternoon, during a particularly messy day, oil stick paintings were drying on every surface of the tiny art room. The art room used to be a closet in a hallway. The room was long and narrow without windows. Ms. Sam received word that she was fired. “Because your graduate school does not meet the standards of this state, there is a licensing problem”, her boss said. Ms. Sam was shocked. She tried everything she could think of to open a door to a solution so that she could stay at her job which she loved, because she loved her students. Alas in one week she had to go.

          Her heart cleaved in two. One side, broken, sad, shocked, angry. The other side – stalwart. That is a big word, “stalwart”. It means loyal/hardworking. Ms. Sam used that quality to dig deep and come up with faithfulness and honesty. She used these qualities to form her goodbye groups, using art. Her students by that time were familiar with art-making as a tool for expression and becoming a better person. The goodbye groups had to be completed in a week.

          After the week of many goodbye drawings and tears, Ms. Sam woke up alone in early morning at her cabin by the lake. Usually she would leave for school at 6 am. This morning she was awake and not driving to school. She listened for the murmurings. She decided to try and meditate each morning to help her get through this time of sorrow. At times she barricaded herself from her great sorrow. But mostly she tried to find ways to console herself and work with the sorrow of losing her students and her small but meaningful work of helping others through art.

          Every morning for two months, Ms. Sam would wake up in the dark, with coots murmuring and lights far out on the other side of the lake from cabins and houses. Ice breakup on the lake arrived. Weeks went by and Ms. Sam meditated every morning. All that means really is sitting in quiet – the quiet in your heart and the quiet in the lake and land. This quiet waits for everyone between 4-5 am!

Every morning Ms. Sam used one box of tissues as she wept and grieved, missing her students. Many tears flowed from the quiet morning and the sadness of her broken heart. After meditation, Ms. Sam would create her own broken heart with small squares of paper and markers. Her creative expression would help her go about her day.

          At this time in history children were being separated from their parents at the border of the U.S. and Mexico. Families were crossing the border, fleeing from their country because of danger or to seek a life were they could feed their children. As Ms. Sam listened to the news, this separation happening at the border made Ms. Sam’s heart split and hurt more. During her meditation she went into the collective pool of sorrow, mourning the separation of children everywhere, not just in her life.

          During meditation she received the words, “Make a heart for those who have hurt you.” Ms. Sam began by making a heart for the people who fired her from her job. Her heart softened toward them. Then she made many hearts for others who hurt her during her lifetime. Then the making of the hearts went toward trees that had been burned by fires and hearts for the scorched earth or a deer that had been hit by the side of the road.

          There are so many happenings and sorrows to honor. An honoring was happening. A recognition and companionship was happening (in the sense of standing side by side with another). You know, as you would stand by a friend’s side if someone called them a name or if they scrapped their knee on the playground. 

                              Honor the Sorrows.

                              Honor the sorrows of your own heart.

                              Honor the sorrows of the Earth.

          This is what the Montana Heart Project is about. This is the story of how the Montana Heart Project began.  You can take it from here!


                    Jennifer L. Thompson


“The American coot also known as a mud hen, is a bird of the family Rallidae. Though commonly mistaken for ducks, American coots are only distantly related to ducks, belonging to a separate order. Coots live near water, typically inhabiting wetlands and open water bodies in North America. Groups of coots are called covers or rafts”. Wikipedia






The Lewis & Clark Library displays art made by the community around the library. If you are interested in exhibiting your work, please contact Suzanne at 406-447-6681 or suzanne@lclibrary.org.