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I Want Love to Win

by James McGinnis (aka "Francis the Clown")

With my face painted white, I pointed to the tear coming down from each eye and said I was very sad because our country was at war and lots of people were being killed. But then I added:  "It’s OK to be sad, but I don’t want sadness to win."  I pointed to the two red hearts painted on my face and asked what they represent.  "Love," replied the elementary school students in each of the 20 school assemblies I did from March 7 to April 7. "Right," I said, "and I want LOVE, not sadness, to win."  Then I told them this story.

Sadako Sasaki (1) was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on her city of Hiroshima.  She wasn’t killed, but more than 100,000 others were. By the time Sadako was in the 6th grade, she was the fastest child in her class.  One day after a race, she collapsed.  Sadako had contracted leukemia from the radiation from the atomic bomb.  Her friend Chizuco told her about the Japanese legend that your best wish will come true if you make 1000 origami cranes.  Sadako made her wish (to get well so she could run again) and began making the cranes. Her health started to improve.  By the time she had made 600, however, she was clearly getting worse and soon realized that she was dying. She started to cry, knowing that she would never run again.  But she didn’t want sadness to win.  She wanted love to win.  So she sat up and made one more crane.  As she finished the crane, she made a second wish and wrote that wish on the wings of her crane – "PEACE" – and prayed that her crane would fly over the whole world as her prayer for peace.

When I asked students whether her wish came true, they all said "No."  So I probed the story a little deeper.  Sadako gave the world her love (in the form of a crane) as fully as she could in that final moment of her life.  Her classmates were so moved by her love and courage that they finished the 1000 cranes and then began writing letters to people all over Japan, asking for donations so they could build a memorial to Sadako.  And they did – a 30-foot arch in the Hiroshima Peace Park, with a statue of Sadako on the top holding a crane over her head.

As children around the world heard of Sadako’s story, they began making cranes and sending strands of 1000 cranes to hang from the arch.  From Sadako’s final crane has come many millions of cranes from all over the world.  So when I rephrased the question and asked whether sadness or love won at Sadako’s death, the students answered, "Love."

In this time of war, how can we be like Sadako?  How can God use us to work a miracle of love?  I told the students of my plans to visit Iraqi children.  When I suggested that the older students make paper cranes with "PEACE" and "SALAAM" (the Arabic word for "peace") on their wings and younger students cut out red hearts and write messages of love and hope on them, they responded generously.  More than 30 large envelopes of cranes and hearts are awaiting their trip to the Middle East when the mission becomes possible.  Some students hung their cranes in their classrooms as a reminder to pray for all Americans, Iraqis and others endangered by the war.  Schools with displays with "stars" for each US service person related to the students added an additional star for Iraqi children.  Other students sent their cranes to political leaders imploring them to find peaceful ways of dealing with conflict.  I also encouraged the students and faculty to raise money for All Our Children, a special new fund for medicines for Iraqi children.

War is a time for profound sadness.  But it is also a time for profound love.  As I realized moments after the first Persian Gulf War broke out in January 1991, "in the face of escalating violence, escalate love."  In the midst of every crisis of violence, those who believe in a God of Love are called to escalate love and work so that love, not sadness, is the final winner.

Footnote - The story of Sadako, plus directions for making the origami paper cranes, is variously presented in both the Alternatives to Violence Christian Education & Elementary School Kit and in the Alternatives to Violence Public School K-5 Kit.