Jewish Journal


March 25, 2011

Paper Cranes:  Talking to Children About Japan


I remember the first time I heard the story about Sadako and the thousand paper cranes.  I was five years old, and I was sitting cris-cross-applesauce on the big blue rug next to my best friend, Rachel. We were giggling.  We had finished drawing our pictures of shining suns and rainbows and unicorns, and it was almost time for lunch. 

(I could never sit still.)

But then, Ms. Taus started talking, and with her words she took us with her on a journey to Japan, to a hospital room,  where we met a doomed little girl who had an impossible dream:  To Live.

With broad strokes, she told us of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The flash of light, the thundering stillness that echoed long after impact.  With a gentle voice, she told us of Sadako’s aching bones and the disease that no doctor could cure.

She kept the backdrop abstract, focusing instead on the poignant details:

In Japan, there is a folk belief that if someone folds one thousand paper cranes, they will be granted a wish.

And so, with breathtaking hope, Sadako held a square of origami paper and began to fold.

Let me live.  Let me live.  Let.  Me.  Live.

Each bird a different color.  A tiny jewel against the pitiless backdrop of hospital white.

And we, all sitting cross-legged on the rug, were enthralled as we imagined the rainbow of birds dangling from the hospital ceiling.

One thousand paper cranes.  The highest I knew how to count then was to 20.  And yet, I could picture them fluttering in the hospital room: One thousand paper cranes, each folded with a prayer.

Let.  Me.  Live.

And then, Ms. Taus told us, when Sadako’s fingers were too weak to lift the flimsy paper, the hands of her friends took over, folding folding folding…

Let her live.  Let her live.  Let.  Her.  Live.

A beautiful story.

A true story.

And now, while the horror in Japan seeps in, slowly slowly slowly, the news more dire each day, I can’t help but wonder:  How many more Sadakos there will be.


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