Yami's Corner - Folding Myself
Folding Myself - From Grief to Joy
Nothing is as shocking for a parent as the death of a child. I faced this sadness when in 1986 my son died in a sporting accident. My life at that time was already in great confusion. In fact, I had signed the papers completing a divorce with my wife on the day my son died.
The sunny skies of California, where I settled after the break up of my family, just seemed gray since the loss of my son. I had never realized the true meaning of "grief" before. The memories of my late son filled my mind and I felt the deep, lasting pain of a loss which drained life to emptiness.
But one of the memories I had of my son was origami. When my son and daughter left home for school, I presented each of them with a book on origami and several packets of folding paper. Origami has long been a Japanese tradition. I wished to give my children something which would remind them of their heritage and which I had always admired as a peaceful, beautiful activity.
I had loved origami when I was a child. But I didn't have a chance to enjoy it in my boyhood because both during and right after World War II even food was difficult to obtain. Origami paper was, of course, unattainable as well. But I was always hoping to try it again, if I got the chance. So, it was in the spirit of achieving a long unfulfilled wish that I gave the origami book and paper to my children when they left home.
Later, when I visited my son's dormitory, I was pleased to see the origami book out on his desk with some folded models. The brightly colored sheets of unfolded origami paper that lay beside them on his desk still form a vivid image in my mind. He had even made a mobile of paper cranes for his sister as a present. This touched me deeply.
My loneliness and depression over my son's death lasted for several years. (It is something one never truly gets over.) But like that day when we trimmed the Christmas tree with beautiful origami cranes, I felt the need to share and express something on my son's behalf.
I remember driving from New Jersey to California, stopping in North Carolina to visit my daughter on the way to starting my life over again. I carried the urn containing my son's ashes with me in the car feeling almost as if he were with me, sharing the discovery of places we'd never been before. At every stop I made, gas stations, motels, coffee shops, rest areas, I folded as many paper cranes as I could and left them without a word.
The Christmas after the death of my son, I was touched by the magical power of origami. The daughter of a friend of mine presented with a small Christmas tree. Everyone knew of my sadness and she had done this partly to console me. My daughter and some friends came to visit me that Christmas. I must have been miserable because I had nothing to entertain them with. But I had some origami paper and a book called "Joy of Origami."
One of the girls started reading directions from the book and began folding paper cranes. Several of us got involved including myself. Hours later, we trimmed the tree with dozens of cranes in bright colors. Simply beautiful, it was the warmest moment I had felt in a long time. I felt imbued with the memory of my son. I felt grateful for the consolation I received on that day from the people who were there.
There is an ancient Japanese belief that the act of folding one thousand cranes grants the folder one wish. My wish at that time was to somehow have my son alive again.
I folded many cranes. Over time, I found myself getting better and better. I was filled with the satisfaction and pride by the models that began forming naturally and beautifully from my hands. At some point, instead of just leaving the origami cranes that I had folded behind in different places, I got the idea of sharing them.
At sushi bars, I folded origami even as I ate my sushi. I made friends with people who showed interest in what I was doing. We folded together at the sushi bar and it was fun. Some Japanese adults who feel that origami is strictly a child's activity, looked at me askance as if to say I should act my own age. But I didn't care. The people who joined me folding had fun.
One day, at my favorite sushi bar, I presented the restaurant with a work of framed origami. It showed an origami cow with an origami heart. There was a typeset message underneath which read, "Eat sushi, make cows happy!" It was a big hit.
Whenever I was on a business trip, I brought along a pack of origami paper and a few books. I tried the challenge of a new and more difficult forms at night in my hotel room It was a peaceful pastime. I enjoyed it and I got better at it.
On my business flights, I started forming "origami parties". Airplane flights, stretched over hours of time, are exercises in boredom, especially for children. I started folding for my own enjoyment to pass the time. Then I noticed people watching me. I must have seemed like an old man folding colorful paper like a school kid. With a smile, I offered a sheet of paper to the two passengers in my row. I said nothing. I didn't want to disturb passengers around us, so silently I began to show them the folds in steps while raising my hands so that they could see and they followed. By the time we finished the first model, several people including the stewardess had noticed something was happening and began to show interest. More people joined me on the next model. By the time we landed, a dozen or more people proudly carried with them their own origami creations. The whole time, I had not said a word to anyone. I had just moved my hands. When I spoke for the first time as we were getting off, people were shocked. They had thought I could neither hear nor speak.
I repeated this on a number of business flights. It must have been appreciated by the stewardesses too because several times I received drinks free of charge.
I continued to pursue and improve my origami, practicing and studying more advanced models. It was at about this time that I realized origami was doing something to me. It was bringing me awake and alive. With each fold I re-formed my own self-esteem which had been lost with my broken family, and stumbling business ventures.
Realizing that there was a keen interest in origami growing among Americans, both young and old, I began exploring a new direction with my origami. People seemed to enjoy when I demonstrated and taught them paper folding. There was an opportunity at a Japanese book store in Newport Beach, California, to give public demonstrations of origami.
Every Saturday for a month, I volunteered myself to demonstrate origami for several hours. At first the response was mild but I noticed many children were coming back to the store with their parents. By the end of the month, a small regular crowd had formed around my table. I could hardly keep up with all of the interest. I was very happy with the response and the ability to share the joy of origami. The store manager was very happy too because it helped turn around his business. By the end, some children were calling me the "origami professor". I was thrilled.
After weeks of seeing growing interest in my small table, with the bookstore as sponsor, I arranged an origami festival at the Fashion Island shopping center on one Saturday in March of 1989. Members of local origami associations and even professional origami folders were invited. Hundreds of people took time to participate in the festival. Origami was demonstrated in different places throughout the center. It was a big success. I took the opportunity to try something new, folding large scale origami. In the central court, I tried folding large models.
It took my entire body to fold an elephant and a whale which were over four feet high when finished. It was like dancing on a stage. My arms, feet and entire body worked along with my hands to make the oversize folds. I was excited and sweating by the end. It was a great success and I was told that the bookstore achieved record sales that day.
After the festival, interest in origami continued to grow. More and more people came as regular customers. The store had become a center for origami enthusiasm. I felt something amazing was happening to me and to the people who wished to share in this love of paperfolding.
The success of my demonstrations and the excitement of the festival revitalized me. I felt a need to make a gift to the world in return. I formed a huge acrylic box which I dedicated as Origami for Peace. The box was four foot square on the bottom and eight feet height. Holes were placed in the box at different height so that origami models could be added as it was filled. I started it with a small collection of origami cranes and other models with a prayer for my son.
No advertising had been done beyond simply putting the box out. People contributed naturally as they came by. Some children who had seen the box went home and came back later with bundles of origami which they had made. After a few months, the box was filled with thousands and thousands of origami models contributed by origami friends. It was amazing. The box was later donated to a foundation for math education using the principles of origami.
From my efforts, I felt an inner sense of fulfillment which I cannot adequately describe. Somewhere along the line a dream of unexpected proportions had come alive. I felt and tasted its fruits with great joy and happiness.
Later, I was invited by three schools in Long Beach, California to give classes to children between 3rd and 6th grades. I taught over 20 classes and observed many children asking questions and showing concern for other children around the world. I had lost one child. But here before me I had gained hundreds who watched and learned from me with eager, glowing faces.
All of this, I had found through the magic of origami. Origami transcends language. It gives peace and is full of the symbolic language of peace. As I saw the children fold their own paper models I could see the future of the world in their hands.
My work with origami continues to grow. This book ("Yami's Origami") is the latest development. It is part of my gift to give in return for a gift I have received in immeasurable quantities. I dedicate it, with a small prayer for my son, who I sense is alive somewhere in all of this wonderful magic.
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