Senbazuru – 1,000 Origami Cranes

One year. It can mean so many things in different context. For one, it has been about a year since the last post on this blog. Or it can be the length of time for someone to grieve or to make a senbazuru. For me, it is the length of time it takes for a heart to begin to heal.

Folded individual origami cranes.

Last year I received sad news from one of the schools I taught at in Japan. A young student ended his life at this school. It was incredibly heartbreaking. To complicate my feelings was additional reports that some teachers were found complicit in causing the situation. This was quite distressing because the environment I remember was incredibly nurturing and caring. Some of my best teaching moments were made at this school. Visiting there was frequently the highlight of my week.

My beloved memories will now always be stained. I question, “Did I miss something then?” The truth is maybe, or maybe not. I cannot truly judge. What I saw during my time there were teachers and staff that were incredibly dedicated to the students’ well-being as well as education. It seems the teachers directly involved were assigned to the school after I left. But perhaps the atmosphere in which the situation flourished may have been there all along. My visits were not frequent enough to provide a full picture of daily life at this school.

Cranes strung together to form senbazuru.

I do know one thing,  this small, tight-knit community is hurting. It is isolated, located in the Japanese Alps. It was a full hour, two hours in winter, car commute to visit the school. At the time of my tenure, there were only 80 total students attending the school. My former student, with whom I stay in contact, said the victim was a classmate of her younger sister. Everyone in the town is impacted by this suicide.

To me, every life is important. I too share in the pain of this community. The news of this young man’s death deeply impacted me. Not knowing what else to do, I began folding cranes as a message to the entire school. I asked advice from my Japanese friends here, in Dallas, on color, size, and so on. However, it was important to me to fold all the cranes myself.

I do not think I quite understood the immensity of the undertaking. Folding cranes soon took over a great part of my life. But in doing so, I gradually began to see something larger was taking place in my heart, healing. So, this project began as an expression of my personal grief but became a message of hope to this community.

Some thoughts that came to me through the process. Here are just a few I choose to share:

Being prepared to mail to Japan.
  • If you do not first start, you will never finish a seemingly impossible task.
  • Physical acts can become spiritual journeys.
  • Every act does not have to be perfect to be meaningful.
  • One person matters, no matter how isolated you/they feel.
  • Like a senbazuru, prayer may begin for a single individual but soon grow to include a community given time.
  • Even as you grieve life continues. Sad things still happen. But so do good things.

Earlier this week I mailed 1,000 origami cranes to a remote mountain school, far from removed from the hectic city where I live. But we still share a strong bond. I have hope our hearts can grow stronger together. Belief that a brighter future can take flight even as we grieve.







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