in the Details
These photographs are being uploaded particularly so that the members of Plymouth Church of Shaker Heights might see that I accomplished my agreed upon mission, depositing a set of one thousand folded paper cranes at the Children's Peace Memorial monument in Hiroshima on Saturday, October 19, 2002.
Behind this act, of course. there lies a story worth the telling, actually several related stories that, taken together, give reason for hope in troubled times.
The skein of related stories begins with the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Among those caught in the attack was a two-year-old girl named Sadako. In the years after the war Sadako initially seemed to have survived without negative effects; then, despite being an active, athletic young woman, she developed leukemia. While under treatment for her illness, one assumed directly related to the perceived effects of atomic radiation, she began folding origami (folded paper) cranes. Amassing a total of one thousand such cranes was assumed to insure the granting of a wish -- and Sadako desperately wanted to live. Unfortunately, despite reaching her goal, she died at the age of sixteen.
Her classmates and friends continued folding cranes in her honor, then dedicated them as a prayer for peace. Eventually a Children's Peace Memorial using a model of the folded paper crane as one of its central motifs was dedicated in Hiroshima's Peace Park to the hundreds of child victims of the atomic bomb as an eternal prayer for a peacful future world.
Following the events of September 11, 2001, in preparation for the upcoming holiday season, this inspiring story was repeated to the children attending services at Plymouth Church of Shaker Heights. They and some of the adult members of the congregation then began folding cranes to be utilized as sanctuary decorations for Christmas. A feature story appeared in the local newspaper, and I stepped forward to indicate a willingness -- if a full complement of a thousand cranes could be assembled before October 2002 -- to bring the completed set with me to Japan and deposit them at the Childrens Peace Memorial in Hiroshima. Which -- as the opening paragraph indicates -- I did on October 19, 2002.
But there's yet a third chapter to this saga. I was accompanied on my Hiroshima sojourn by two participants in the Smithsonian Japan Journey tour for which I was acting as Study Leader. Helma Lanyi was born in Berlin during World War II and now lives in Washington, D.C. where she is (among other things) actively involved in various Peace, Justice and Reconciliation projects; Lew Johnson, a retired lawyer from the Seattle area, served in the United States Army during that same conflict and was serving in Europe when the use of the atomic bomb ended the Pacific conflict. Having these two with me made the historical context of Sadako's original story palpable and real, enlarging it as well to incorporate more than just the conflict in the Pacific theater.
Lew told me that one of the reasons he wanted to come along was that, at the time, he was estatic that the use of the bomb had brought the war to a final conclusion -- and that he would not have to run the risk of being killed during what everyone assumed would be a bloody land invasion of the Japanese home islands. Later that morning, after we had deposted the cranes and worked our way through the exhibits at the nearby Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum graphically detailing the impact of that single weapon on the life of the entire city, Lew took me aside and told me that, for the very first time, he had begun to ask hemself if maybe, just maybe, had he lost his own life in exchange for the Bomb NOT being used, the sacrifice might have been a worthy one.
And therein lies the conclusion of this tale of multiple threads. Just as many contributed to the folding of the cranes now hanging near the Childrens Peace Memorial in Hiroshima and just as that gesture emerged in turn from the initial decision by Sadako's friends to honor her and later all children killed by the atom bomb with a prayer for peace symbolized by one thousand folded paper birds, so, too, passing strangers (once enemies on oppostie sides of a worldwide conflict) were brought together for a moment of dedication and inquiry that brought new understanding to one for whom the Bomb's use had never been questioned. What a remarkable confluence of possibilities and coincidences.
How fortunate I feel to have been a part of that chain of circumstance. And, ultimately, how confident I am that in the end peace, indeed, will prevail.
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