Kayla Mueller

The story reported that she tried to teach crafts to her captors, but I don’t believe it for a minute. Not for a person like Kayla, as least as I’m coming to know her through national news reports. Nope, for someone dedicated to standing in solidarity with the Syrian people and committed to not letting human suffering become normal, the origami folding of paper cranes was definitely not a craft project.

I don’t know when Kayla was introduced to Sadako; for that matter, I don’t know for sure that she was, but it seems likely. Sadako is the person many of us associate with the paper cranes: a young girl in Japan, infiltrated by the radiation particles that soaked into the ground, floated in the water, and settled on food following the bombing of their hometown of Hiroshima in 1945. Sadako was two at the time, and even though the moment of impact tossed her outside their home and landed her in a box, her clothes burned and torn, she survived, and her family did what they could to put the horror behind them. Nearly ten years later, however, swollen lymph nodes led to a diagnosis of leukemia stemming from the after effects of all that radiation. As Sadako wrestled with her untreatable illness, her father shared an ancient Japanese legend with her: if she folded 1,000 paper cranes, her wish would be granted. As her health failed and her hospital stay lengthened, Sadako folded and folded. She worked feverishly but was only able to fold 644 cranes before her death nearly a year after her diagnosis. Her classmates continued the folding, and created another 356. Sadako was buried surrounded by 1,000 paper cranes.

Sadako’s story and spirit caught the imagination of her country and the world, and cranes quickly became a symbol for peace and hope.  Three years after her death, in 1958, a statue of Sadako holding a paper crane was erected in Hiroshima Peace Park. A plaque on the statue reads, “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.” Her brother Masahiro has said, “Her death gave us a big goal. Small peace is so important; with compassion and delicacy it will become big like a ripple effect. She showed us how to do it … I believe if you don’t create a small peace, you can’t create a bigger peace”.

I have no idea how far the ripples have traveled, but I’ve heard of cranes adorning wedding celebrations as a prayer for long years of deep joy. I’ve strung them into a mobile to hang over a baby’s crib. I still feel the tears that burned my eyes five months after 9/11, as I walked around the neighborhood of what used to be the Twin Towers. Countless fire houses were adorned with strands of cranes, as school children, faith communities, families and friends sent their heartbroken prayers and deeply held gratitude to first responders who had seen too much and suffered beyond our imaginings. On the tenth anniversary of that nightmare, our community folded, strung and displayed thousands of cranes, sending our prayer and longing into every ear and heart open to hearing: this is our cry, this is our prayer, peace in the world.

Maybe Kayla cloaked the folding of paper and making of cranes as a craft project, but everything I hear tells me she was praying and working for peace. For the Syrian people, whose suffering had compelled her to put herself in harm’s way.  For her family and friends, whose days and nights were undoubtedly tortured with fevered cries for her release.  For herself, her desire to live, her vision of the difference she wanted to make in the world. And yes, for her captors, whose hearts and souls are tormented by hate and twisted by evil. Praying for them is a shocking notion, I know. This is ISIS we’re talking about, ravagers of villages, beheaders of journalists and aid workers. But before they were that or anything else, they were people with human hearts, made in the image and by the hands of God. Maybe she wanted their help in accumulating those thousand cranes, believing in the promise of peace. Maybe she dreamed of planting seeds that would gradually soften the rigid diatribe of war and silence the battle cries of hostility. Maybe she was infiltrating the dungeons of death with a message of love and the possibility of tolerance, praying that the ripples of her efforts would encourage a small increase of peace.


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    • Don Eaton on February 17, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Beautiful, Alice. Love, Don

    • Dave McGrath on February 17, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Thank you Alice. I miss you, and love to hear your voice in wonderful pieces like this. Love, Dave

  1. Many thanks to both of you for your kind words.

    • Donna on February 17, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    Your words hold such power and hope! Thanks for sharing.
    Love, Donna

    • Diana on February 18, 2015 at 5:40 am

    Thank you, Alice for the timely and powerful reminder. Love you!

    • Chris on February 18, 2015 at 6:24 am

    What a beautiful piece. It brought tears to my eyes.

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