Origami of the Heart

The face of a wristwatch stares at me from its case, frozen at 8:15 a.m. Tattered backpacks, left behind by children on their way to school, wait for their owners to claim them from this post-apocalyptic lost-and-found. A tricycle, now rusted, joints stricken with gout, spent 40 years underground before it was resurrected for exhibition. It belonged to a boy named Shin, and grief gnaws at my stomach when I read that Shin’s father buried the tricycle with his three-year-old son in a backyard grave. These fragments lodge themselves into the recesses of my heart; they are shrapnel that will remain in me until I am also gone.

Outside of the exhibition hall, volunteers help us make origami cranes, a gesture of peace and goodwill. Perhaps this act of creation will be the balm for my melancholy today. My husband guides our daughter’s hands, helping her crease, turn, and tuck. Rose petal lips press gently against the bottom of the crane, little puffs of air breathing life into the paper form. Hand-in-hand with her daddy, my daughter carries the persimmon-colored bird toward the Children’s Monument. Gratitude and grief swirl and swell in my chest as I watch them walk together. What will we tell our children about Hiroshima?

At the monument my daughter places her crane onto a pile of paper birds. Chains of thousands of cranes cascade around her, each paper sculpture a wish for peace, individually folded and pressed into shape with hope. The last remnants of cherry blossom season dance under our feet as we stroll along the Motoyasu River. Even as summer approaches, we lament the disappearance of the petals. Throughout the day, we have heard the timbre of the Peace Bell, low with atonement, tolling through the park. We take our turn ringing the bell, but it doesn’t feel like enough. The cranes, the bell, even our presence here at the Peace Park are beautiful gestures of peace that still feel insufficient at the end of the day.

Our pilgrimage to the Peace Park has left our hearts raw. We carry them across the city, hoping that an evening at the ballpark will heal. We follow a river of red Hiroshima Carp jerseys downstream to the stadium gates. My children and I hike to our seats and wait for my husband to arrive with snacks from the concourse. We are standouts in the crowd, the only attendees in our section not donning a stitch of scarlet. My girl dances to the beat of taiko drums, and her smile and wiggle catch the attention of the people next to her, who offer her their plastic baseball bats to clap together. She encourages the players with the clamor of plastic on plastic. When my husband arrives, the man next to our daughter is sharing his edamame with her as though they are old friends enjoying a picnic. Although we do not speak a common language, his generosity and her gratitude need no translation. Several innings later, a woman at the end of our row gives our daughter some candy. Our girl delights her sponsors all evening with smiles and laughter. At the end of the seventh inning, we wave goodbye, throwing in some thankful, very non-Japanese-looking bows for good measure.

On the streetcar ride back to our rented apartment, I savor the warmth of drumbeats, smiles, and salted snacks. My heart is overwhelmed again, but the sadness from he morning has waned, yielding to joy and hope that wash over me in welcome waves. Surely, sharing seven innings with strangers under bright stadium lights is the most we’ve done all day to bring peace to the place we occupy in this world, more than any crane or bell could ever do. Smiles made gentle creases where there was pain. Shared snacks and noisemakers made folds in our hearts; gifts pressed and smoothed away any doubt of being welcome or belonging — this was origami of the heart.

I consider again what we will tell our children about this place, about Hiroshima, and this time I do not wonder. We will tell them that peace is sharing snacks, giving high fives and cheering for a team from a town you are only visiting. Peace is standing respectfully for an anthem in words you don’t understand and exchanging smiles when no words are needed. Peace is a baseball game. And when despair creeps in and the bits of shrapnel brush the tissues of my heart, I will focus on the image of my girl smiling next to her new friends, borrowed bats held high in the air.

A version of this post was first published on writeradvice.com with the title “Hiroshima.”

Today is the 76th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

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