Untold Stories

A Thousand Paper Cranes

Grateful for a friend’s story which reminded me to write something I’ve been wanting to share here but hadn’t felt ready to do.

Last year my spiritual teacher died. It devastated me. In my grief, I felt spiritually anchorless, unsafe and unsure. She was a teacher who insisted she wasn’t a teacher but who taught me my major lessons, how to stand up to life but have confidence in its flow. When I first met her, I had to beg her to take me as her student, and finally she took three of us in, while grumbling the whole time that she wasn’t our bloody teacher. She was funny and loud, but oftentimes, soft-spoken, articulate and wise, and on rare occasions, ruthlessly decisive in her compassion. She kept pushing us to our limits but we always had lots of laughs with our practice. A year after she’d been teaching me, she sent me away and cut off our connection because in her view, I was getting complacent and wasn’t learning in her presence anymore. She explained, the only real role of a teacher (not that she was one) was to point the way and the rest is really up to the student. Suddenly, I was wandering on my own, I had to learn and figure things out by myself, in my head, in my life. In time, I accepted that sending me away was the best teaching she ever gave me. After forgiving her some, 😀 I started writing her again, just everyday stuff and I would sign at the end with “Love always,” because that’s how I casually sign all my letters.

Early last year, she asked me to visit and when I arrived, I learned that she was dying…that week. She had been sick and silent about it, and had chosen to die and to refuse any more treatments. I found her sitting up weakly in her bed, slowly and painstakingly folding these crane origami, reminding me of the story of Sadako. In Japan, they’re known as senbazuru, or a thousand paper cranes stringed together (like prayer flags for peace), where legend has it, you get your wish once you folded on your own thousand paper cranes. I was confused and angry and I asked her, why wish for healing but refuse treatment? She just laughed at my confusion, and jokingly said, they’re for you grasshopper. I got to laugh too with the remaining time we had, but already feeling a deep sadness and dread. She died that week under her DNR orders, leaving me feeling anchorless again. A week into my grief, I found inside a box she left me, the paper cranes she’d been folding. When I absently unfolded one, then all of them with more purpose, I saw through my tears that she had written messages inside each one. She had carefully written inside each of the thousand colored paper cranes, “Love always.”

Today, my gratitude is for my teacher who taught me compassionate non-attachment to any person, and who keeps reminding me a thousand times to love always. Thank you for reading. 🙏💕

1 Comment

  1. Wishing you grace in your grief. She’s always with you. Much love X

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