My fingers became numb as they creased the square piece of paper into a precise shape. They had memorized the 27 steps of creating an elegant paper crane. As I glanced at a clock that read 2:15 a.m., I suddenly felt the weight of my eyelids. I sat back in my chair as I tossed the last of the thousand cranes into a large paper bag filled to the brim with multi-colored birds. My body ached with sleepiness, but a wave of relief rippled through me.
Staring at the bag of cranes, I not only saw the results of countless hours of labor, but also the completion of my hopes and dreams. I spent a large portion of my summer folding these cranes. Each wingtip bore the possibility of spreading optimism, and every beak represented the traditions of grace and honor. The entire flock seemed to connect me with those suffering in the world who wish for better lives. In the birds, I saw a bit of hope.
After eleven straight hours in the pediatric intensive care unit of a local hospital, my feet were heavy and my fingers sore from bending paper clips and tying fishing line into knots. There were many cranes still waiting to be hung, but my fatigue disappeared when my eyes locked onto a little girl coming from her room. It was late and the halls were dark, yet she was bright-eyed and happy. After smiling at her, I realized that she was wheeling an IV pole. She pointed to the cranes that dangled from the ceiling, drawing her mother’s attention. I watched in awe, bewildered by her fascination and strength; this girl longed to escape the confines of her condition and it startled me to think that these cranes provided her a few moments when she didn’t have to think about pain or fright. My determination to spread hope intensified and gave me the will to finish hanging all one thousand cranes from the ceiling of that hallway.
Even as I saw aspects of life in the cranes, my final thought was the wish I had been destined to receive. According to Japanese legend, if you fold a thousand cranes, you will be granted a wish. Wishing had been part of my childhood; I threw coins in fountains wishing to adopt a baby sister, and I searched the night skies for shooting stars in hopes of more allowance. It was part of my life I could not touch or grab, but wishing had given me strength to act with confidence. Before my project, I’m sure that I would have gladly wished for others’ happiness; but now, with the help of the cranes, I can actually make that wish come true.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.