Just across from our home in downtown Lowell is a lovely place formed by a dam on the narrow waterway where ranger-lead canal tours begin their watery sojourn. On the other side of the dam is a small, yet dramatic waterfall and rocky pool inhabited by birds of all kinds including a lone white crane. I see it often as I am out walking my dog Golda. Sometimes, the crane stands motionless, other times, it walks, each long leg lifted then arching forward and down.
It always rescues me, this quiet crane, from the irritations and disturbances of the day. It takes my breath away and restores it again, cleansed. Once I saw it fly overhead, its long neck completely outstretched in front, legs trailing behind, graceful yet also just slightly comical. It was like seeing one of those impossible flowers, whose color and wildness of form transcends all expectations of what might be seen on this our home planet. There it was, impossibly long and lovely and simple, looking slightly front-heavy, flying over Lowell on silent wings. I was so taken aback at the sight of it, at once so much in need and so immediately grateful, that tears came to my eyes.
For the months of May and June, a thousand cranes have taken up residence in our sacred sanctuary. Of every color and pattern imaginable, they flock together near the entrance, and, like our mezuzah, they bless our coming and our going. All through April, a handful of gentle congregants of the Nichiren Buddhist Sanghe of Greater Boston came together to fold nearly all of these origami peace cranes. I wonder if the work rescued them like the white crane rescues me. I wonder if they found joy, happiness, and peace as they folded and threaded, threaded and folded.
When Rev. Ryuoh, in his long light blue robes, taught us how to fold the cranes, there was much heart-felt camaraderie in our Religious School. Parents sat together with their children and shared an adventure in peacework, exhibiting skills and pooling information, helping each other and their friends. There was also a touch of hilarity, especially over my poor attempt at a crane, which, I’m sorry to say, never made it into the flock. (I was disappointed, but, I tell myself, there are lots of things I can do.)
Just like the lone white crane in downtown Lowell, when I pause to truly see the thousand plus origami cranes in the sanctuary, they appear more and more impossible and improbable. Their folds are so crisp and precise, their cacophony of colors and patterns so irrationally joyful, their very existence and numbers so entirely ridiculous and profound. They are not at all what we have come to expect to be the product of humans on this planet. They remind me that we are capable of such a different way of life, of living with our true prayers and truer priorities governing the work of our hands, and the spend of our time. Thinking of the crane flying so long and silent in the sky, I am required to revisit what I thought were the limits of God’s creative energy in the universe. Living with the thousand cranes for these weeks, I am forced also to re-vision the boundaries of human possibility. We are capable of beauty so simple and peace so complete it can make you weep.
This is my summer challenge to congregants and friends of our holy community: May each one of us separately and all of us together, go forward and create our own sacred string of summer days, in healing and in joy, in humor and in peace.
When we return in the fall, the thousands cranes will have flown back to the Buddhist temple.
We will have to make our own. Let us begin to imagine the ways…..