76 years since the first atom bomb was detonated over Hiroshima on August 6th 1945, the aftermaths continue like ripples. The strength of the ripples has subsided, but the echoes of war continue across continents and generations.
Like most students, the first time I read about the World Wars, or the Second World War in particular, was during Social Studies classes in middle school. The first war film I watched was Escape from Sobibor. I didn’t know I was watching a story of the War as the film played on the TV channel horrifying me of the images that are impossible to forget. To know those images were in fact realities lived by thousands and thousands more makes them infinitely more painful. I picked up a book about child survivors of the Holocaust while visiting a friend. And there was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and then there was Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.
Sadako, the protagonist of the story, is a young runner who suffers from the bomb’s radiation and eventually succumbs to cancer. I came to know about Sadako – both the book and the person through my cousin brother who was studying the children’s novel for his grade 4 class. My brother, who is almost 2 decades younger than me, might not yet understand the full force of Sadako’s story, but I am indeed glad that he is reading about a ripple of decisions made in the past. He hushes to speak of the bomb; he knows it is a terrible thing that happened.
After reading Sadako, I wanted to sob – not the loud kind but the quiet and silent kind, as though I might submit to life. But Sadako herself never does submit to life, even in the face of death. Both the big and small things in life amuse Sadako – her track race and spiders for good luck. Her eventual senseless death leaves us shocked, confused, and maybe even angry – a symbol of the senseless death of millions through war and its consequences. My country, Nepal, also faced a decade long civil war, the scars of which remain fresh even today. I cannot claim to understand it all, but the feelings are deeper than they were during middle school class. This is perhaps the cause of growing up, to feel things more strongly, as though each vein inside our skin stretches a little longer to wrap us in its entanglement.
When life feels senseless, Sadako folds paper cranes. A thousand folds would grant her health, as goes the Japanese folktale. Her runner spirit never does return, but a different spirit takes over not just Sadako but also the surrounding people, and perhaps also the reader reading Eleanor Coerr’s words.
We might call Sadako an existentialist who assigns meaning to her life by folding paper cranes. The events are absurd – there is no one to blame for her condition but maybe just maybe only time. And yet in this absurdity she continues, fighting till the last moment there is. Sadako makes us smile, she makes us laugh; she breaks our heart, and then she leaves us with an aching that we all have in our own ways – a question that may not be answered, but can only be met with a spirit like hers.
This is our cry,
This is our prayer;
Peace in the world.
– Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
Picture: Digital art of the book cover.