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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lessons from a paper crane

This crane was folded after weeks of daily practice...

I began dabbling in origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, several years ago, and found it not only a good — if sometimes frustrating — meditative experience, but also helpful in dealing with the pain and stiffness of carpal tunnel syndrome. Using my hands in a different kind of delicate, precise work helped offset the repetitive motions of typing at a keyboard, not least because it kept me away from the computer while I was folding paper into birds, flowers, and other decorative items. My interest in the practice has waxed and waned, and I’ve never made it a daily practice. That is, until last December when I decided to decorate our home for the holidays using nothing but folded cranes made from the brightly colored paper of catalogs and other unsolicited advertising. Day after day, I took time to sit down with the to-be-recycled paper and turn it into art. By New Year’s Eve most every potted plant in my house had paper cranes perched in it, and I was able to fold a crane in under a minute, with barely a glance at my hands. Unfortunately by then the decorating was all done, so our household didn’t really need any more cranes. And since I felt like I could fold a crane in my sleep — been there, done that — I got busy with other things and stopped practicing.

Then one day last month I had the pleasure of escorting some visitors around the city, including a young girl who had come from the other side of the globe. While we sat waiting for our food at a restaurant, I decided to offer my young guest some entertainment. I took a colorful page from a magazine and began folding. And folding. And folding. And then unfolding, and folding again. It may have been entertaining, but no matter which way I folded, I couldn’t get the paper to turn into a crane. In just a few short weeks without regular practice, I had lost a skill that I thought I had burned into my memory for a lifetime. Eventually, the waiter brought our food, and I put the would-be crane away until I got home. When I looked at it again, I realized that I didn’t need to fix it. I needed to leave it just as it was, a three-dimensional lesson in the importance of daily practice.

This crane (?) was folded after weeks of no practice.

My young friend was kind enough not to embarrass me by asking, “What’s that supposed to be?” But when I saw her a few days later, she had acquired some paper and an instruction book and was creating entire families of paper birds herself. I’m glad she found it of interest after all, and I guess it’s just as well that instead of someone handing her a paper crane, she had the pleasure of making her own: a lesson to her, a lesson to me, and to us all.


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