A thousand cranes for Paulo

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

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A couple of days ago my friend and IDEO colleague Erika shared some sad news. A friend of hers who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor several years ago is now facing his last weeks. He is younger than me.

In these terrible moments, I think most of us have a comforting instinct: to make something. And designers especially. For the creative act is both a gift to the person leaving this world — a tangible expression of love — and an affirmation of life for the living. We exist to create: we build tools and buildings and cities, we make art and food and music, we make friendships and of course, we make families, extending ourselves through the lives we make possible. Creating something, anything, is how we grab ahold of the time between birth and death, and make it meaningful.

When Erika said she and her friends were making a thousand cranes for Paulo, and she coordinated an origami session at the studio yesterday, it felt bittersweet to be able to join in. A thousand origami cranes are a Japanese good luck tradition. It is a joyful tradition, one of vibrance and abundance — to receive a thousand cranes, carefully folded by hand, how could you not feel loved? I was moved by how joyful even just our small contribution of cranes looks together, and how unifying the experience was of folding them, knowing that others were folding for the same purpose, with the same prayers for someone who is a stranger to many of us, but very dear to someone we care about.

The late Irish philosopher John O’Donohue once described being with a friend in her last moments, a kind woman who was deeply loved by friends and family. He wrote:

It showed me that if you live in this world with kindness, if you do not add to other people’s burdens, but if you try to serve love, when the time comes for you to make the journey, you will receive a serenity, peace, and a welcoming freedom that will enable you to go to the other world with great elegance, grace, and acceptance.

Thank you, E, for letting us be part of your kindness to your friend. I hope they help Paulo, his friends, and family find some small moment of joy in the sadness.

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March 29th, 2013


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    Discussion (1 Comment)

  1. Stephanie Wai on April 12, 2013

    Thanks for sharing, Ingrid. What a beautiful gesture.
    I was reminded of a Buddhist tradition. When a person dies, the community will fold and burn paper boats to help guide the spirit out of this world and into the next. I remember when my own Chinese grandmother passed, the act of keeping my hands busy, folding these little boats, was incredibly soothing. Not only did it provide a welcome distraction, but it made me feel useful. And, as we know, there are few emotions more powerful than feeling useful and needed.


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