My path to creating 1,000 origami cranes began in an unlikely place: a Japanese mystery novel.

I read “A Death in Tokyo,” by Keigo Higashino, at the end of August. In this police procedural, a character has made cranes and dropped them off at Shinto shrines. I was familiar with the concept of making 1,000 cranes to appeal for peace, but didn’t realize people also undertook the project to support the healing of friends and family members.

In May, the husband of a good friend (my oldest friend) was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. Surgery and chemotherapy were in his future. I was floored. What could I do to help? Since they live in Massachusetts, my expressions of support have been through the mail, both snail and electronic. My hands might itch to make a casserole, but it wasn’t happening.

Wait a minute. I could make cranes.

Well, in theory, anyway. My previous few attempts at folding had not ended well. Once, I participated in a festive little workshop called “Holiday Origami.” I came away with a pathetic “piano,” on which no carols would ever be played.

I did not let this experience deter me. That had been in the 1990s. Now, I had YouTube. I would teach myself to make origami cranes.


I also had Amazon, from which I ordered a box of 500 sheets of beautiful washi paper.

I had to try several different videos before I found one that suited me. I set up my iPad on the porch and watched two hands fold. Triangle, triangle. Hey, I can do that. Then came one of those origami moves that does not exist anywhere outside of origami. Fold part of the triangle over to form a square. Mastering that took the rest of the hour I had allotted for origami that evening.

The next day, I resumed my training. Oh, now I have to turn the paper over and make another square. Folding on the opposite side must have employed the opposite side of my brain, which rebelled. It took me the rest of the hour to complete the square.

The next three folds were straightforward. I now had a triangle with two “legs.” These appendages had to be folded into a higher fold. The exact procedure was not visible in the video, so it was trial and error time. Eventually, I got it.

I finally could pull out the wings, tail and neck and fold down the head. I had a crane.

A homely crane, but it was all mine.


I was on my way. I refused to think of how long it was going to take me to make 1,000 cranes at the rate of two a day — which was being optimistic at that point. But I did, after about a week of daily folding, become more adept. I was soon able to make five a day.

I noticed that the folding had become automatic. My mind turned off, like I was meditating. It was very relaxing. In fact, if I did let a thought about the folding intrude, I was sure to make a mistake. I believe I was taming what Buddhists call “monkey mind.”

In fact, the other day, my smart phone informed me that my resting heart rate had dropped over the past 21 days. That was almost exactly the amount of time I’d been making paper cranes.

I relaxed about making mistakes, too. I just started over, or even just thought, “It’s good enough.” The Japanese have a concept called “wabi-sabi,” which I understand to be an acceptance and appreciation of the imperfect. Some of my cranes are prettier (in my mind) than others, but they were all made with love.

Meanwhile, I remembered that I needed to buy more origami paper. A friend is a mentor to a young man with Down syndrome, a talented artist. This young man has created origami paper based on his artwork. Proceeds are going to an organization that has benefited him.

I ordered my package. When I let my friend know, he promptly came over with seven more (free) packages. I felt my heart swell — it seemed like the tiny little circle of kindness I had begun by folding cranes was expanding by the minute. When I was able to pass on one of the packages to another friend for her teenage daughter to use for her own projects, I felt the circle push out a little further.


My cranes, though dedicated to a friend’s healing, were bringing peace — to me. I felt calm as I made them, and the good vibes continued throughout the day. I was (hopefully) helping a friend, and friends were helping me.

I also felt good about mastering a skill.

Once, I attended a Ukrainian egg-decorating workshop. I dropped an egg. The instructor muttered that I was “high-maintenance.”

Now, even if I have to say so myself, I am one of the least high-maintenance people I know. Clumsy — well, there you have me.

So I am grateful that I can make origami paper cranes, each one a prayer that a friend will make it through a serious health challenge. I’m happy to report that, so far, so good.

Liz Soares welcomes email at

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