A thousand cranes folded, being and sharing peace, a wish and a surprise

Susan Folds Peace Cranes, Jessi Helmrich, painter. Throwing a kiss to Jessi.

Three months ago I began packing for our trip to Cortona. I included in my luggage papers to fold peace cranes. I was just shy of a hundred to reach my goal of folding a thousand.

I began the crane-folding project four years ago after a call from Clare, Terry's sister, telling us that her breast cancer had metastasized to her lungs and bones.

I was not new to cancer. I was also in treatment and I'd been a caregiver to Terry through two diagnoses, one far-advanced. 

Clare's new diagnosis got my attention in a "wake-up, Susan" kind of way. I realized anew that I am a visitor on this beautiful planet for a short time. 

I can't remember the first crane I gave away. I just started doing it. I do know that I started folding to work with painful feelings around her diagnosis. As I fold, I use this sweet crane to become aware of my breath, breathing in and breathing out, giving attention to the gap between breaths. I think about all the people in the world who have cancer or love someone who is very ill. I'll breathe in my discomfort and heck, while I'm at it, I'll breathe in the discomfort of all others in a similar situation. I'll exhale comfort to them and myself. 

The last crane is for Clare. The legend goes like this: after folding a thousand cranes a wish is granted. I'll give the crane and wish to Clare.

So who is the giver and who is the receiver? Here's what I'm learning. Life is give and take. Not give or take. So this means, each time I give a crane, I receive. I receive things such as smiles, comments, and hugs. A thousand times. Just imagine the joy. Gandhi says, "The fragrance remains in the hand that gives the rose." 

Project Cranes for Clare ends here in Cortona with a gift-twist. When I arrived in Italy, I gave cranes to students. Jessi Helmrich was one of those students. A few weeks later she said, "I've thought a lot about this. I would like to paint your portrait folding the cranes and memorialize this gift."

She did and then gave it to me after we arrived home.