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Letter to Eleanor Coerr, author of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

Prakriti Mehta
White Station High School
9th - 12th Grade

Dear Eleanor Coerr,

I grew up an only child, swaddled by my parents against the world’s blots and blemishes. Instead of worries or doubts, I filled my mind with stories and aspirations. My favorite stories always came from my grandmother, a grand woman equal parts iron and perfectly shaped pancakes. Whenever my family flew over to India, she was the face I sprinted toward through the noisy, crowded airport, and the neck to which I hung, howling, when it was time to board the plane back. I always found her indestructible, sprinting and panting to keep up with her as we perused dusty marketplaces, on the prowl for the best bargain on peas, papayas, and chili peppers. She always awoke before the crack of dawn, never complaining about creaky knees or achy bones. As a child, I thought she must have been a living personification of the sun, replete in her warmth and kindness.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, my world cleaved in two. My mother broke me the news with the gentleness with which the sunlight bathes one’s face at the crack of dawn, but I could not see any light. Around this time, I found your book in my middle school library. Always an avid reader, I had retreated to the comfort between pulp and pages in this time. My father had booked the first flight out of America, and the shadows in my house loomed longer with only my mother and I left. I took your book home one night, not having read the summary on the back, and first sobbed at the mention of cancer, then at Sadako’s pleas to simply live. While reading the book over the week, I fervently hoped that Sadako’s thousand paper cranes would save her life, and when she died I wept again. However, the book lifted some of the helplessness out of me. I channeled all the fear and loneliness I felt into cranes and cranes and cranes. I made some from newspapers, some from tissues, some from old assignments, and anything I could get my hands on. I etched all of my worries and frustrations into the cranes, folding them away so that no one could ever find them. My grandmother’s surgery went well and she was again healthy by the time I had folded 438 cranes. I stopped.

Five years later, while coming home from school one day, my father had me pick up a call from my mother. Out of breath and groaning, she told us she was unable to move off of the floor as her body was seizing. My father called the paramedics and we raced home, rushing her to the hospital. Feeling helpless again among the flashing lights and sterile scent of anesthetic in the back of the ambulance, I swore if I had one wish in the world, I would wish that my mother would get better. When she finally fell asleep after midnight in the hospital and my dad had to consult with a doctor, I found a stack of papers with inspirational verses on them. Glancing down, I realized my hands were already creasing the familiar folds into the paper. That night I folded cranes again. While I was folding I thought about Sadako and her wish to live. There was an immense guilt eating me from the inside as I wondered why it was the bright, vibrant people in my life that suffered and not me. That night I tucked my dad into a hotel couch and promised myself that I would make my mother and my grandmother proud. While my mother had her surgery, I began looking through her old cookbooks and managed to prepare burnt offerings for my father when he got home from work. I kicked myself into cleaning and dusting, alien chores I had never imagined. Now I had work both at school and when I came home, and I remember feeling like any minute I would simply shut down like a robot, all of my batteries used up. When I felt scared and alone, I folded cranes.

When my mother came home, I was disappointed that I could not give her a full 1,000 cranes, I knew that we were blessed. I was at exactly 821. This time, I did not stop. Whenever things were hard, I folded cranes. When there was too much homework to do and I was groggily fumbling for my light switch at 2 a.m. on a school night, my hands would instinctively reach for the nearest scrap of paper and my parents would find me in the morning with a crane perched on my chest. I captured all the brightest moments of my life in the folds of cranes. One sunshine yellow crane held the pamphlet for the 2010 Wordsmith Writing Olympics, where I won the first gold medal of my life. Another was made from a swim team heat sheet, the first time I ever placed in an athletic event. My collection of cranes was complete on February 2, 2013. I thought often about when Sadako said that she would “write peace on [their] wings and [they] will fly all over the world,” because this book helped me find my own inner peace. Sadako and her cranes were my beacons of light during the storms of my childhood, and for that I am very thankful.

Best wishes,
Prakriti Mehta