Post-3/11 meeting leaves group of strangers weeping in Bath

Here at our home in Louisiana in March, my daughters and I were so touched by the news of the Japanese earthquakes and tsunami that we decided to fold 1,000 origami cranes — a senbazuru — to send to Japan.

Our family’s effort quickly gained momentum in our community. For the five days before we mailed the cranes, someone was knocking on our door every hour or so throughout the day and evening dropping off bags of cranes.

If you’ve ever tried to fold a crane, you know those were little bags of love.

Many people came in and sat at our table and folded more cranes. It was beautiful. When we reached our goal of 1,000, the cranes kept coming. All in all, we mailed 1,873 cranes. The Bezos Family Foundation, through Students Rebuild, donated $2 to the Japanese recovery for each of those cranes. Even after a few weeks of our cranes arriving at the Students Rebuild office in Seattle, people from around the world kept sending them.

All in all, the organization received 1 million origami cranes — 900,000 more than their target goal. Organizers are partnering with Architecture for Humanity and shipping the cranes to become an art installation in Japan. They’re using the money to build an orphanage and a school in the Sendai area.

Skip a few weeks forward.

In April, my 13-year-old daughter, Greer, and I visited England. We made a trip to the English city of Bath, a city first settled by the Romans and so named because it was loved then and now for its warm healing waters. In fact, Greer and I toured the bathhouse the Romans used 2,000 years ago.

Upon entering the bath area, we practically bumped into two Asian girls. One tall and one short. I asked them if they would take our photograph by the bath. As I handed my camera to the shorter girl, I realized their English was marginal. That always makes me happy. Having taught English as a foreign language for many years, I still enjoy speaking with people learning my native language.

I smiled and in the way I speak with my hands, arms, legs and toes when I’m trying to communicate with someone who’s trying to learn English, I said, “In March, we folded 1,000 cranes for a senbazuru for Japan.”

I knew they would recognize the word “senbazuru.” They did.

Both girls put their hands together and began bowing to us saying, “Thank you,” over and over and over.

Greer and I recognized their sincerity immediately, but they kept saying, “Thank you.” Then, I saw a single tear roll down the check of the taller girl. Followed by another.

I know well the reticence of emotions in the Japanese culture. However, after three or four heartfelt thankyous, the taller girl’s tears began to fall in abundance. Within a moment, she was sobbing uncontrollably.

I opened my arms and she fell into them, silently sobbing. I share this not to embarrass her in any way, only to say that for a few minutes, the four of us stood there sharing a moment that touches me still, and likely changed my daughter in a way that nothing else could have.

They didn’t know our names. We didn’t know theirs. Still don’t, in fact.

Tears began to roll down Greer’s, the other girl’s and my own cheeks. It was one of those experiences you can’t believe even as it’s happening — powerful and compelling.

Finally, the Japanese girl regained her composure and we began to smile and laugh. She said one more “Thank you,” and the four of us posed for a photograph, arms locked.

I don’t know why our tale of a senbazuru touched her the way it did. I don’t know if she lost family in the tsunami. I don’t know if it was just that moment of realizing how connected our lives are and that people in one place genuinely care about those in another.

I wish I knew her name. I wish I knew her version of the story. I wish she knew how she touched our lives.

Lafayette, Louisiana