From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

Operation: Heart Attack

Sisterhood is powerful.

Robin Morgan

Sometimes the benefit of having friends isn’t just the relationship, but the life lessons you learn. This was the case with a group of friends I had during my sophomore year of college at Brigham Young University.

There were five of us who formed the little group—four roommates plus one who just fit in. The combination of personalities in our group—Jessica, Julie, Kathryn, Robyn and myself—provided hours of deep conversation, giggling parties and heartfelt confidences. Because we had so much fun together, we didn’t make much effort to socialize with many people outside our group. We had group dates together, ate meals together, went shopping together and held silly late-night parties together.

It became a common pastime to sit around on Sunday afternoons and discuss the other people in the apartment complex where we lived. Usually that meant a fairly brutal critique of clothing, dating, personal habits and anything else we could find to joke about or make fun of. Anyone outside of our circle was fair game for a gossip probe.

One lazy afternoon as the conversation waned, Kathryn said, “You know, we really should get to know some of the people who live here. We sit around and make fun of them, but maybe it’s because we really don’t know them.” There was a lukewarm response to the suggestion. What Kathryn was suggesting would require moving outside our comfort zones, and I wasn’t sure that any of us wanted that.

Then Robyn chimed in, “Actually, that’s not a bad idea. We don’t have to try to be everyone’s friends, but maybe we could do something nice for everyone. It’s hard to not like people you do nice things for.” This was sounding more interesting.

“But there are probably two hundred people in this complex—how can we do something for everyone?” I protested.

Jessica jumped in. “I think I have an idea,” she said.

Operation: Heart Attack began. We set three rules for this project: We had to do something individual for each person, it had to be carried out and accomplished in absolute secrecy, and it had to require some sacrifice on our parts. Every Sunday, we would gather in the living room and cut out hundreds of construction-paper hearts. Then we would decide which apartments would be “attacked” during the coming week. Each of us would then receive an assignment to find out who lived in a particular apartment and discover some admirable qualities about each tenant. A couple of nights later, we would gather again and review the information. Jessica would carefully write out a note on beautiful heart-shaped stationery for each recipient. Each one listed at least three things that we truly admired about that person. The notes were always signed anonymously with “JADDA,” a word made by combining the first initial of our middle names. Plans were then made for Step Two.

Step Two involved breaking up into teams. We would look at our calendars and divide into partnerships based on schedules. On the appointed night, two at a time, we would wake up at 3:00 A.M., dress in dark, heavy clothing, fill a bag with hearts, tape and notes, and be on our way. We would slip over to the chosen door and begin taping paper hearts all over it. Often we had to go hide in a stairwell when the night watchman or a night-owl resident came by. When the door was “attacked,” we would carefully place the notes to each tenant right in the middle, sure to be seen. We’d then quickly race back to our apartment for a few more hours of sleep.

This went on for several weeks. Questions began to arise about who the mysterious JADDA was. We often came upon groups of people debating who was responsible for this strange phenomenon. We would pretend to be as stumped as everyone else, then race back to our apartment and applaud our success. Some people even tried staying up late at night to catch us, but we always managed to evade detection. Everyone in the complex seemed friendlier, more interested in each other. Our adventure was bringing consequences none of us had dreamed of.

I noticed the greatest benefit a few weeks after Operation: Heart Attack officially ended. It was a typical Sunday afternoon, and we were sprawled out in the living room discussing the people in our apartment complex. Instead of the rude comments, snickers and criticism that had been the content of previous Sundays, there were concerned inquiries and tones of admiration. As a different person became the topic of conversation, everyone would chime in with the things they liked about him or her. We had become aware of the challenges each of our neighbors faced and were touched by their achievements.

None of our fellow tenants ever knew who was behind Operation: Heart Attack, and we wanted it that way. Everyone in that apartment complex gained their own private cheering section that year. But our favorite reward was the friendship the five of us gained. Where we had been united by common interests and situations in life, we were now united by a powerful experience of learning to love. We’ve often looked back on that adventure as the bonding experience that sealed our friendship—a bond that has been unbroken as the years have gone by and scattered us across the country. Sometimes, the best lesson we learn from friends is simply how to be one.

Wendy Simmerman

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