Take the square piece of paper, fold it so that one side touches the other, make sure the crease is sharp.
Those were the instructions my elementary school teacher delivered to me as we strove to make paper cranes. Mine turned out looking like a mangled seagull, but I learned the lesson-constructing a paper crane is a small labor of love.
An MIT group, which started an initiative called Cranes for Collier, strives to direct this act of love in the memory of MIT police office Sean Collier, who was 27 when he was shot and killed by the alleged perpetrators of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Anyone can contribute his or her own paper cranes, and organizers of the initiative hope that the collection of cranes will serve as a large installation in Collier’s memory.
It is difficult for me to think of paper cranes without thinking of Sadako Sasaki, who was 2 years old when the atomic bomb fell upon Hiroshima-radioactive exposure from the bombing caused her to develop a fatal case of leukemia, from which she died in 1955.
But not before leaving behind her legacy. With the help of friends and other patients in the hospital, Sasaki folded over 1,000 paper cranes, wishing for herself to grow healthy as she folded.
Paper cranes-even 1,000 of them-could not keep Sasaki physically alive, but there is a meditative quality to origami that should not be lost on anyone. Sasaki’s victory was not her wish to survive, but it was her insistence upon doing a little, humble, human thing for as long as she could.
Folding was a reminder of what human fingers can do, and the final product was a reminder of human imagination-both the ability to invent a folding pattern to create a paper crane and the ability to picture a creation in flight, though it looks so different from its living namesake.
“What are paper cranes to the dead?” one might ask. Regardless of whether one believes in an afterlife, my answer is the same-paper cranes are not for the dead, but for the living. Continuing to create despite tragedy is our victory over death-it is our reclamation of Sean Collier.
“What honor is there in a paper crane?” one might ask. They are flimsy, small, and the material from which they are made cannot endure forever. But the same is true for people.
Our bones can break, our physical bodies are nothing in comparison to the vastness of the universe, and the flesh that makes up our bodies will one day give way.
A paper crane is an acknowledgment-even a proud announcement-of those inconvenient truths, and there is great strength in that ownership. It is the most fitting of tributes to a man like Sean Collier, as it is a reminder that we are human, but an even firmer reminder that we can create.
In my elementary school classroom, after everyone was done folding his or her paper cranes, I was the only weirdo who decided to unfold mine. To me, the intersecting lines on the small square of paper looked like the crossing paths of flying birds or the interactions of human destinies.
My appreciation of the lines, however, was not my initial reason for unfolding the crane. Instead, I wanted to feel that what was done could be undone, that you could bring something back. This was a comfort to me at the time, but I recognized that this same comfort could not be extended to human life.
When life gives way to death and a human being finally unfolds, there is no way of putting that person back together. There are no instructions for such a thing, because, despite all of our greatest innovations, we have not yet invented a way to craft a soul.
We cannot bring Sean Collier back.
But, in making paper cranes, we can pay homage to his human soul.