Sunday, March 27, 2011

One Thousand Paper Cranes

A few weeks ago I received an email from my daughters’ school. It mentioned the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Japan and said baskets would be placed outside of each classroom filled with paper cranes. For  $1, we could buy a crane and the money would go to the Japanese Red Cross to help “survivors rebuild their lives and communities.”

The letter was signed by a few moms who have kids at the school. One of them was my friend, Alice Huang, who I knew was from Taiwan. The other women, I realized, after reading each last name slowly, probably had ties to Japan.

For days I had been watching the news and reading the newspaper. I had not looked up and seen the families right in front of me.

“These cranes are beautiful,” I said to one of the moms who was near a basket the next morning at drop off. “Is your family in Japan?”

She said yes. And, they were safe.

When I asked Alice about the paper cranes, she reminded me of Taiwan’s connection to Japan, and that, given the history, her grandparents' generation “had a Japanese education.”

So when she read the news online about the devastation in Japan and went to the Red Cross website to make a donation, she had a strong desire to be able to donate more money than would be possible as an individual.

“I am sure even without the paper cranes, we would have been able to have a successful fundraiser.” But, the cranes, in many ways, had meaning.

“Origami is part of Japanese culture but also Taiwanese culture,” she told me. “I knew how to make origami when I was a little girl. We included two paper cranes in my wedding favors—because for Chinese, two love birds will always fly together in their lives.”

In Japan, there is a legend that folding a thousand paper cranes makes a person’s wish come true. The cranes are often given as a gift to a couple at their wedding or after the birth of a child, suggesting the giver has wished for them many years of happiness. They also symbolize world peace, and some stories in the past few weeks have mentioned Sadako Sasaki, the young girl who spent her final days of life folding paper cranes. She died of leukemia, developed after the bombing of Hiroshima.

For her fundraiser, Alice gathered origami paper she’d bought at a Japanese bookstore. A few of the moms had paper from recent trips to the country. Together they sat, folding the cranes. Five minutes to make one. Ten minutes, perhaps, for others.

“When I was folding the paper cranes, I actually felt it helped to release the anxiety about the disaster,” Alice told me.

I’ve given my oldest daughter a few dollars each morning for the past week. She’s stood at the box near her classroom, staring at the birds: bright red with gold, white with cherry blossoms and tiny lady bugs, orange with green, and her sister’s favorite, Hello Kitty.

The kids learned about the earthquake in Haiti last year. This year, the tsunami. I do not think anyone has mentioned the nuclear plant.

We talk about the cranes.

Because of that box, I finally lifted my head out of the rushed morning routine. And I stopped for a few seconds longer at the door to the classroom to say to the women whose children share the school and playground with my daughter something I should have said long before, “I hope your family is ok.”

The cranes have been a good education for us all.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Love this one.