There is a definite history and association to the folding of paper cranes, and a deep power in the thousands of cranes in the Peace Park in Hiroshima. I remember learning the story when I was little, and being in awe of the seeming power of those cranes, the symbolism, and the beautiful variety of colors that they came in.
But I also have my own personal history that will always come to mind when I see cranes.
In college I had a friend who folded a lot of cranes. And so, when it came time for her to defend her thesis project, we all gathered (as is tradition) to wish her luck as she went into the room. It is also tradition to wait outside the room, in a show of silent support and solidarity as the student goes through what is often considered the most difficult part of their college career. This waiting also ensures that someone is there to support the individual when they finally emerge — often after a few hours — and have to then wait while the adviser(s) and outside evaluator determine the grade which the student will receive for the work that they have poured their heart and souls into for over a year.
Each waiting group takes on a different feel, and in this particular group, waiting for this particular friend, we made cranes. There were those among us that had been folding cranes for years, and others who were just learning that afternoon. We worked together, teaching and learning to fold cranes. Through the hours a number of people took the time to make cranes. Some stopped by for a few minutes between classes to add a crane or two to the pile. Others stayed, folding, the entire time. By the time my friend stepped out of the room, the hallway was filled with hundreds of cranes.
Cranes folded from colorful origami paper, scraps of wrapping paper, notebook pages, old handouts found abandoned in nearby classrooms, old tests and paper drafts, candy wrappers, even a few dismantled chip bags — whatever we could get our hands on.
Together we had worked to create a diverse array of cranes. Just as each of us who spent time, silently sending our support, had our own quirks, our own approaches to the world, and our own ways of being, each of the cranes had a style of it’s own. Some were precisely folded, some were sloppy, and a few never quite made it to being full-fledged cranes. But those differences just served to make the display special, all the more meaningful. No ones offering was turned away, and all were greeted with great appreciation.
When I think back on those days (now over a decade ago), I can still picture the cranes, scattered and perched throughout the hallway. I can see some of them, remembering the laughter and joy that went into trying to create them. The awe and wonder that followed the successful folding of a particularly tiny, or surprisingly over-sized, crane.
And then, more recently, I found myself again folding many cranes. I had the privileged of spending a number of days teaching children where I was working how to fold cranes, as I had learned to do that day back in college. I remembered my friends, and then added to that beautiful memory new ones. Sitting at a table with eight-year-olds and twelve-year-olds, with all ages in between. Kids from Sudan, Rwanda, Honduras, Maine, Iraq. Kids in hijabs, and kids with dyed hair. Kids who were fluent in English, and kids who knew few words. I sat with them, and folded cranes, finding commonality among all our differences.
And I remember folding cranes with another friend, to send to a friend of hers that was ill. Again, asking the kids we were working with to help us in coming together to send well-wishes and healing hopes to someone they did not know.
There are many moments in our lives when we can find ourselves united with others around some sort of common bond, or discover ways to transcend our differences. To honor them, and come together in the beauty of inclusion. And for me, I see that every time I see cranes. And every time I see that kind of community, I find myself faced with the urge to fold some cranes.