Friday, May 14, 2010

Paper Cranes and Wishes

"This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on Earth." sign at the foot of the statue of Sadaka Sasaki in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial

He is dying. He has known it for sometime now. Up until this recent trip to the hospital, however, it seemed like a far-off day. A distant event that did not need considering -- except for the getting things in order stuff he needed to take care of.

And now. Death is real. It looms. It calls. It lures him in with its seductive promise of release. From pain. From knowing. From being.

I went to see him in the hospital yesterday. Had seen him once since I visited with him and wrote about him a month or so ago. We'd planned on getting together to do a video story -- and now, as he told me yesterday, he doesn't have the energy. Doesn't have the time. "I think I stalled it long enough I don't have to do it," he said. He smiled. Through his pain and the oxygen tube, he smiled and crinkled up his bright blue eyes and smiled.

I smiled back and wanted to cry.

It just doesn't seem fair. Oh, not the video thing. The pain thing. The dying thing. The leaving this world thing when there's so much he still wants to do and give and be in this world.

Except now. He's given up on doing or being. He just doesn't want to be of this world.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" I asked him.

"I wish you'd get me a Magnum 357," he replied.

I wasn't sure how to respond. "Good thing I don't know where to get one," I joked.

He looked at me and laughed. "Louise. Where do you work?"

I laughed with him. "Oh right. Guess I could find someone around the shelter who could help me."

"Duh. Yeah. Around that place you can get anything if you know who to ask."

There was an awkward moment. A space that could not be filled as his request echoed between us.

"I brought you something," I said, pulling the brown manila envelope from my bag.

I pulled out three tiny folded paper cranes.

"Do you know the story of the 1,000 cranes?" I asked.

"Nope," he dutifully replied.

I smiled. "Then I'm going to tell it to you."

Sadako Sasaki was three years old the day the atom bomb fell one mile from her home in Hiroshima. Her mother and father and two sisters managed to survive beneath the black cloud of radioactive dust that peppered their world with fear. As time moved away from that devastating day, they moved away from the fear that the bomb had exploded with it and held onto the hope of each new day.

And then, Sadako started school and became an athlete. She was loving and caring and kind and funny and fast and fleet of foot. She did well in school. She did well at track. Until she got sick. At first, it was measles. It went away and they thought that was it. A childhood disease. But then, when she was eleven, they found lumps on her lymph nodes and they gave her a label that didn't fit well with her, leukemia.

"The atom bomb disease," her mother said.

Sadako was determined to get better. She began to fold origami cranes. She believed the legend that if you folded 1,000 cranes, you would be granted any wish. She had a wish, a need, a hope, a desire to be free of her disease. And so, she folded.

she didn't have enough paper. She wandered into rooms throughout the hospital asking for any paper she could find. Medicine wrappings. Old newspapers. Any paper would do. She had a 1,000 cranes to fold and the legend didn't specify what kind of paper she use.

She reached 100 cranes and kept folding. 200. She kept folding. And the disease kept unfolding itself in her body.

You must rest, they told her.

I can't she said. I have a plan.

300. 400. 500.

She grew more and more tired. More and more convinced she would be granted her wish.

600. Her fingers were tired and sore. Her body swollen. Her limbs purple with the disease.

And still she folded.

642. 643. And then, her last. 644.

Sadako Sasaki died on October 25, 1955. Some say she finished her 1,000 cranes and kept on going. I have a plan. She said. I cannot stop.

When she was buried, there were 1,000 cranes surrounding her. Some say it was her friends and family who completed her wish. Some say it was her.

But no matter who folded those cranes, in their folding a story of hope unfolded with them. a story of possibility. Of peace.

For in her passing, Sadako's cranes took flight, just as her spirit took flight in the folding of her cranes. Today, the paper origami crane is a symbol of peace around the globe. For school children everywhere, paper crane projects represent our need to create peace, to abolish nuclear weapons, to find hope in this world to overcome war and hatred. Her cranes also live on as a symbol of hope for people who have been touched by cancer.

"You remind me of Sadako," I told him. "You carry the story of hope where ever you go. You spread peace and joy where ever you are. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for showing me what it means to live fearlessly."

"I like the story," he replied. "I like the cranes."

"I can't give you your wish," I told him.

"I know."


Billy Coffey said...

It takes a lot for me to tear up.

That just did.

katdish said...


This story really hits close to home. My mother left Hiroshima with her family right before the bomb was dropped. Had she not, I might not be typing this comment right now. Peace to you and to your friend.

Anonymous said...

Maureen said...

I know Sadako's story so well. I incorporated it in a poem I wrote after my brother died that I have not yet published (I consider it the best thing I've ever written).

The paper cranes incarnate Hope. I think your friend will carry the story and the image of the cranes in his spirit. May his soul be blessed in the next life.

S. Etole said...

silent here ...

Glynn said...

This got me. Right in the middle of the heart.