Little Hearts Everywhere

About fifteen years ago, in younger days, I had been living for a couple of months as one of the few foreigners in Tarnowskie Gory and I began to notice these red heart stickers everywhere. On notebooks, windows, mirrors and guitar cases.
At first I thought it was a logo for a music group. I could recognise the word ‘orchestra’, like the British band Electric Light Orchestra, and I guessed that they used the red heart like The Rolling Stones use the lips image. I mentioned this theory to a Polish friend and I was sure I was right. I was wrong. It was, they said, the symbol of a Polish charity.
‘Oh,’ I replied.
Then I thought about something else. To be perfectly honest I didn’t really care about charity. I didn’t care about much back then.
A year or so later I learned the red heart sticker charity thing actually helped specifically with medical equipment. A man in a bar told me proudly how the organisation helped pay for machines that many richer European countries wished they had.
‘That’s pretty impressive,’ I replied and I meant it. Then, after a few seconds, I thought about something else. What did I care? It didn’t affect me.
I moved back to Britain for about twelve years but I still came back to TG for little things like visiting friends, eating rolady and getting married. Mrs Williams and I usually came back to Tarnowskie Góry to visit the in-laws every January because, well, flights are cheaper in January. Of course this is the busy time for WOŚP (I finally learned its name and stopped calling it ‘that red heart sticker charity thing). I’d find myself at WOŚP charity concerts, buying things I didn’t need at auctions for WOŚP or giving money to happy teenagers handing out the famous stickers. I was a little older and wiser and began to appreciate what the charity did.
‘What a good idea, one day, when I have more time, I’d like to do more to help,’ I thought to myself, with the same enthusiasm I usually save for ‘Tomorrow I’m going to start that diet!’ Both never happened.
Then eventually The Williams Family returned to Poland in 2019 and our little baby Franek was born very prematurely the following January. He then spent almost all of the first year of his life in hospitals with incredibly serious health problems. It was then I truly understood the importance of WOŚP.
On almost all the vital medical machines keeping him alive I saw a red heart sticker...and Franek needed a lot of machines. It would be quicker to list the machines that didn’t have the red heart. Even the comfortable red chairs my wife and I sat on in the hospital when our tiny Franio was having a life-saving operation were donated by WOŚP. The charity made things a little bit easier for parents in the most difficult time of their lives.
I remember the times I’d stand by his bed - before C*VID meant I couldn’t see him for about seven months of 2020 - the doctors would talk to my wife in serious tones and I was too scared to even try to understand. Looking at my very tiny, very sick boy could get a little emotional so often I’d just focus my eyes on one of the red heart stickers on one of the machines and think to myself ‘Thank God for those guys’. No more thinking of something else.
Here’s where I should write ‘I can’t imagine what would’ve happened without those machines donated by WOŚP!’ In reality I don’t want to imagine what would’ve happened. It terrifies me.
I’ve had some people complain to me ‘The fact that WOŚP exists shows what’s wrong in this country, we shouldn’t need them,’ and ‘You don’t need a charity like this in Britain.’ These people I’ve spoken to also seem to think the ambulances in Britain are made of gold. They aren’t. It’s true we don’t have such a high profile medically-focused charity but not because we don’t need one, we definitely do. I think it’s rather that nobody has come along and created one as effectively as you have here. In a perfect world I guess nobody would need any charity, but the world isn’t quite perfect yet. When it is I’m sure every country will have golden ambulances. Maybe next year? Maybe not.
At the end of the month Franek will be one year old. I’m finally trying to stop myself writing ‘will hopefully be’ when I talk about his upcoming ages. I remember almost a year ago when I would’ve given everything I owned for him be a day older. He’s finally home, but he still has many significant health problems so we have to have machines next to his bed for serious emergencies. Guess what stickers are on those machines.
So, when I first saw the heart symbol about fifteen years ago, I was one of the few foreigners in the area. Now there are far more and there’s a greater chance one day somebody will ask you what that red heart means. Of course I’m sure you’ll tell them proudly and, if they look like they don’t care that much or they’re ready to think about something else, please be sure to tell them that one day that little red heart might be the most important symbol in their life.