I found a quilted heart at the George Eastman Museum ...

The quilted heart I serendipitously found during my one-day visit to the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York.  (Photo by Dominique James)

The quilted heart I serendipitously found during my one-day visit to the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York.  (Photo by Dominique James)

I´ve always thought it would be cool to one day visit the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York. As a professional photographer originally from the Philippines, and now based mostly in Atlanta, Georgia, I've always been naturally curious to see where and how George Eastman's Kodak all started.

Well, my wish finally came true. Yesterday, taking a trip that spanned over two thousand miles both ways, I got to spend my entire day at the George Eastman Museum.

I did a little bit of research and planning before the trip, and my best hope was to treat the visit simply as a pilgrimage of sorts, to pay homage to the man, George Eastman, and marvel the institutional legacy he built, the Kodak. Being there, even to do nothing but look around, would be more than enough.

The visit, however, turned out to be so much more than what I planned and expected.

My day was full. I viewed both the permanent and current exhibits that included a beautiful visual history of aspects of photography. I attended the 3 expertly guided tours (I particularly enjoyed the garden and house tours of the fabulously restored Eastman mansion). And, I even got to listen to a live mini concert at the conservatory by a visiting ensemble from California whose 45-minute repertoire included a popular Visayan lullaby (which brought me to my feet, clapping and shamelessly shouting 'Bravo!'). Then there was this very quick and light late lunch at the museum cafe, and also a bit of souvenir hunting at the museum shop. I practically opened and closed the George Eastman Museum that day!

And then, something else happened—something very interesting, something totally unexpected, something simple and random yet utterly wonderful. It had nothing to do with George Eastman and his Kodak, for sure—well, except maybe for the place itself—and, one particular stranger, with a beautiful heart.

As I stepped out of the museum, near the main door, I noticed hanging at a bush nearby, a small quilted piece of fabric in the shape of a heart. At first, I didn't quite know what it was. My initial thought when I saw it was that someone might have accidentally left it. I looked around to see if anyone was nearby. No one.

I gently picked it up, looked at it very closely. As far as I can tell, the front was made out of six different delicately patterned fabrics, embroidered in some parts, and then in the very middle, a small green turtle for a button was securely sawn in. It came with green ribbon handle, and a handwritten tag that said, "I need a home." At the back of the tag was the website www.ifoundaquiltedheart.com with a simple and direct one-sentence plea: "Please report me as found!"

Curious and confused, I did a quick look-up on my iPhone, and from there I learned and understood what it is all about.

From the www.ifoundaquiltedheart.com website:

"Congratulations on finding a quilted heart. Someone took the time to create that heart just for you. Please take a moment and share the good news that the heart has found a home!"

On the website's 'About' page, was a short, heartwarming story on how this wonderful project got started:

"The most random thing happened while vacationing in Nevada. Three sisters and our husbands took a day trip to Valley of Fire State Park. After an afternoon of hiking, exploring, and soaking in the beauty, we drove to Rainbow Vista. Being the only location in the park with cell phone service, we took this time to check in for our return flight.

"While the three sisters searched for cell service, the husbands searched a cave off in the distance. Following a deserted trail around the back side of the cave, the most incredible gift was found: a little quilted heart with a tag reading, 'I need a home.' Well, it certainly found a perfect home!

"We may never know who placed that quilted heart in the desert of Nevada, but we are thankful for that little heart. This beautiful little heart started a whole new purpose for us; blessing others with the same simple act of kindness."

i clicked around the site some more, trying to determine if there's a catch, a hidden agenda, an underlying motive, for this activity. Maybe there was something being sold, some kind of cause being espoused, a religious or political view being imposed. As best as I can tell, there was none. People are voluntarily doing this, with no thought of compensation, for the sake of sharing and spreading joy and love. The act of gift-giving a symbolic quilted heart is its own reward, with one simple but powerful message—a way to tell people: you are loved.

There's so much more fascinating information from the website—including how to participate, sewing instructions (of course!), how to report, and a whole bunch of ongoing amazing and joyful and hopeful and inspiring stories that this experience of serendipity has given to so many people.

And because I found one myself, I now feel quilted into this wonderfully random human experience. Imagine, on the very day of fulfilling one of my long-time and heartfelt wishes, of visiting the George Eastman Museum, a stranger's selfless act of kindness, care and love—an act from someone whom I may never ever know, an act from an angel—made a very special and extraordinary day even more special and so much more extraordinary, with a beautifully quilted heart. Anyone could have found and picked up that quilted heart, but that "anyone" happened to be me.

Christmas is still a long way off, though it's coming so quickly—but let me tell you that my family traditionally get-together at my sister Donna's beautiful house in Atlanta during the holidays. It is a special and meaningful time of celebration for us, not only because it's my birthday and my other sister's birthday (Susan), but because we want it to be an extraordinary and memorable and magical and meaningful season for my nephews and nieces both in the Phillipines and in the United States, particularly for the two youngest, William and Samantha.

Every year, as is the common practice in many homes, Donna and her husband Ed puts up a huge Christmas tree in their living room. What makes our Christmas tree special and unique to us is that it is decorated with many small objects that are particularly significant to members of our family. There are artfuly designed names, there are hand-made miniature frames of the kids with pictures taken at different times, there are souvenir items from places visited on vacations and family trips and memories of experiences through the years. When the tree is up and lit, we all take time to look at it, at each of the precious hanging objects decorating it, to cherish and reminisce our life experiences. Our Christmas tree is a beautiful memory tree.

Any of our family members can hang a decor or two every year if they so choose. And so, every year, one or two new personalized decor gets to be added, slowly replacing the store-bought ones. Last year, I added a German-made, wooden jumping jack toy to the tree which delighted William and Samantha. For me, this jumping jack toy represents my nephew and my niece's boundless energy. The kids themselves found a perfect spot on the tree to hang it. (I suspect they chose a place low enough for them to be able to reach it, and play with it.)

This year, because of the unexpected, beautiful blessing of finding a quilted heart on my visit to the George Eastman Museum, it would seem that Christmas came a bit too early for me. I will defintely hang it on my sister's Christmas tree the moment it's up! This year and every Christmas for years to come, with this precious gift of a quilted heart on the tree, I imagine I will point it out many, many times to William and Samantha, and to anyone else who'd care, and tell them the story over and over again of how, one magical day in Rochester, New York, I serendipitously found it, and how it made me very happy to give it a home—in our home, on our Chritmas tree, and in our hearts.

The mansion that George Eastman's Kodak built in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Dominique James) 

The mansion that George Eastman's Kodak built in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Dominique James)