In Hiroshima Peace Park, built to commemorate the victims of the first nuclear attack, there is a statue of a young girl holding a golden origami crane. On its base are inscribed these words: “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.” The memorial was built by the efforts of the classmates of Sadako Sasaki, the subject of that statue, who was only two years old when the United States dropped the nuclear bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” about a mile from where Sadako lived.
Ten years after Little Boy decimated Hiroshima, Sadako, like so many other Japanese children, came down with leukemia as a result of her exposure to radiation. The prognosis for anyone with leukemia in those days was “terminal.” There was no hope. A friend of Sadako’s, Chizuko Hamamoto, visiting her in the hospital, reminded the suffering girl of a Japanese fable; if one folded a thousand paper cranes, the gods would grant their wish. Then Chizuko picked up a gold-colored piece of paper and folded a crane, telling Sadako, “Here is your first one.”
So Sadako began folding paper cranes, hoping the gods would grant her a life beyond age twelve. On the wings of those cranes, she would write messages, like: “I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world.” But after two months, with 356 cranes left to fold, Sadako died. Her grieving school friends folded the remaining cranes, and the thousand paper birds, along with the wishes for peace and hope inscribed on their wings, were buried with Sadako.
For seven years now, the Rainbow World Fund, an all-volunteer, international charity based in the LGBT community, has used the symbol of Sadako’s origami cranes to decorate their internationally renown Christmas tree, the World Tree of Hope, a wonderful gift the LGBT community gives to the world at Christmastime.
Since 2006 the tree has been displayed in San Francisco City Hall, first at the invitation of Mayor Gavin Newsom, and now under Mayor Edwin Lee who has continued the tradition. Each year, organizers in San Francisco ask the people of the world to send them their wishes for the future as a reminder that “We are all one human family.” Last year, volunteers lovingly inscribed over 7,000 messages, on the wings of cranes folded by origami enthusiasts and volunteers they teach, and hung lovingly upon the World Tree of Hope.
The tree itself is magnificent! It’s a twenty-foot white fir, donated by the Delancey Street Foundation, a San Francisco charity that runs a residential treatment center for drug abusers and ex-cons. It sparkles with lights and the handmade ornaments. But as a symbol of community, as a reminder of the ties that bind all men and women living on this big blue marble, as evidence peace is a common and a constant goal of people everywhere, The World Tree of Hope’s power to inspire dwarfs its physical beauty.
Anyone can make a wish. It costs nothing but some time and some thought, and a spark of hope in your heart. People the world over, from the famous and powerful, to the small and helpless, have sent their own wishes. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hoped,“For a world where all people are treated with dignity, respect and equality, no matter who you are or who you love.” President Obama’s wish is also on the tree: “I wish for a world for our children more just, more fair, and more kind than the one we know now.”
This year’s tree will be unveiled at a free Lighting Party, December 10. That means you still have time to make your own wish fly over the world on the wings of a snow white crane. You can make your wish of up to 100 words here, on the Rainbow World Fund’s website, and it will be transposed onto an ornament and hung on the World Tree of Hope in time for the unveiling.
Soon, hopes and wishes from paupers and presidents alike will laden the branches of the World Tree of Hope. My wish for equality for my LGBT friends will be among them. I hope your wish will be too.
Each of the trees pictured above is a World Tree of Hope from a former year. To see them in better detail, just click on them.