Sunday, December 13, 2009

Peace and the meaning of paper cranes

It's rare when the volley of largely anonymous emails that are generated by stories on the web are acknowledged. Freedom of speech, at times, seems to manifest itself as freedom from thought. Rarer still is the newspaper which runs an editorial calling attention to these responses by reprinting them. Recently the Athens (GA) Online Banner-Herald ran a seasonal piece about the efforts of a small rural library to create a thousand paper cranes in an effort to promote the idea of peace -- a seemingly heartfelt gesture in this season of goodwill toward all.

Or it seemed that way to all but a few readers who felt compelled to toss their zingers in the website's comment section. Here, excerpted, is the opinion piece by the Banner-Herald's Jim Thompson, in response to librarian Suzie DeGrasse's efforts to give peace a chance on state route 98 halfway between Ila and Danielsville, Georgia. I worked there this past summer; and I hope to get back there when the tomato plant outside the back door has revived. The full Thompson editorial can be read here.

... Briefly, the story details the fact that young people in Madison County are working to fold 1,000 pieces of paper into cranes by the arrival of the new year, giving physical form through the art of origami to a wish for world peace, as part of a program initiated at the Madison County Library.

Through no fault of these kids, but owing much to the clich├ęd vacuousness of countless beauty pageant contestants, wishing for world peace has come to be viewed as nothing more than babbling idiocy. But that doesn't - or at least, it shouldn't - denigrate the genuineness of the wish being given physical form by some kids, and according to Thursday's story, at least a few adults, in a tiny corner of Northeast Georgia.

Except that there are people all too willing to do just that. Among the comments posted to the story at the newspaper's Web site,, are:

► "What a waste of time. Tell 'em to make an origami Panzer MkV."

► "I have been too busy folding the envelopes on my bills ... If I fold 1,000 envelopes will the crane pay my mortgage for me?"

► "What kind of hippie bull**** are these schools (apparently the writer failed to notice the origami cranes aren't a school project) trying to ingrain (sic) in these poor young people?"

► "The same crowd that admires the origami thinks vomit on a canvas is art."

Kind of makes you wonder what some folks have against world peace, doesn't it?

There is, though, something of a serious point to be made here. As the Thursday story explains, the practice of folding paper into cranes has its origins in the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl diagnosed with leukemia after the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.

As the story goes, Sadako started making paper cranes while in the hospital as an expression of her hope for world peace, and asked other children in the hospital to make the cranes, too.

But without getting too philosophical here - those are deep waters, in which I'm not competent to swim - it's not necessarily the end product that's important here. It doesn't necessarily mean much that, if all goes according to plan, there will be 1,000 paper cranes hanging in a library in a tiny corner of Georgia.

What does matter, what does carry meaning in this endeavor, is the intent with which the cranes are being folded. In the minutes spent folding each crane, each person who creates one of the paper birds will be thinking about peace in the world.

And it's those thoughts that the cranes will represent, as a physical manifestation of what should be the yearning of all human souls: a world in which fear, ignorance, greed for power and all the other ills that set one group of people against another have been conquered.

Folding pieces of paper into cranes and hanging them in a rural library, and thus bringing world peace?

Yeah, it's a lot to get your head around. ...

(photo of Suzie DeGrasse by Tricia Spaulding, Athens Banner-Herald staff)


Jessy Randall said...

I'm glad you did that!

A Creative Dream... said...

I ran across your post while looking up the meaning of the origami crane. I've made a few dozen of them of late and I plan to leave them around my town today for unsuspecting people to find...hopefully to invite them to think about peace for a moment. I grew up in a rural area, and I am certain that the project would have been received the same way, people are who they are, and it is more than a little difficult to shift a train of thought for most of us. I applaud the library, and you, for bringing the project to the attention of your readers...and I hope that, for just a moment, each of them does try to "wrap their head" around the idea...the smallest act, if done by many people, changes the world.