by Father Mark Goldasich
Peace, pennies, and plenitude — over the next several months, it’s my hope that these three become close friends. By a happy coincidence, two Sep- tember celebrations fall on the same day this year, on Tuesday the 21st. Since it’s the third Tuesday of September, it’s this year’s opening day of the regular sessions of the United Nations’ General Assembly — and is designated by the U.N. as the International Day of Peace. It’s a time “to commemorate the ideal of peace among all nations and people,” according to “The Book of Days,” by Guen Sublette.
September 21 is also World Gratitude Day. Its promoters encourage people to experience “the emotion of gratitude within” and share it with others. “Realizing that these feelings are simultaneously being experienced by other groups and individuals all over the world can create a universal, lasting bond of kinship,” notes Sublette in her book.
These two celebrations got me to thinking of a story that I’m sure is familiar to you. Sadako Sasaki was a two-year-old Japanese girl back in 1945 when the atomic bomb was dropped on her hometown of Hiroshima. She survived the blast and seemed to be living a normal life until she turned 12.
After falling ill, her parents rushed Sadako to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with “atomic poisoning.” Her leukemia was the result of radiation that was stored in the bodies of those who survived the “Flash,” as the people of Hiroshima referred to the bomb blast.
One day Sadako’s friend, Chizuko Hamamoto, came to visit in the hospital and presented her with a piece of paper carefully folded into the shape of a crane. Chizuko said, “I read a fable that the crane supposedly lives for a thou- sand years, and any sick person who folds a thousand paper cranes will get well. So, let’s get started!”
Chizuko then taught Sadako how to fold a crane out of a piece of paper. Curiously, Sadako began to feel better as she folded the cranes. As the days wore on, Sadako folded more and more cranes, which soon began to fill every space in her hospital room. Some days she could barely finish a few, due to fatigue; on other days, though, her fingers seemed to fly as she assembled the cranes. Eventually, though, the leukemia took its toll. According to one version of the Sadako’s story, she folded only 644 cranes before she died.
At that point, Chizuko and other classmates got together and folded the remaining paper cranes to reach one thousand, threaded them into a wreath and placed it on Sadako’s body. These classmates then raised money to build a Children’s Monument in Hiroshima’s Peace Park as a reminder to what the “Flash” had done to that city’s children.
Today, a figure of Sadako, with
a golden crane perched on her outstretched hand, stands on a large granite pedestal. At its base are these words from the children: “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Let there be peace in the world.” (Adapted from an entry in Brian Cavanaugh’s “Sower’s Seeds That Nurture Family Values: Sixth Planting.”)
So, where do the pennies come in? I’d like to propose that each of us set a goal of collecting a thousand of them from now until the end of the year. These pennies are a substitute for paper cranes.
(I looked online at how to make one. There were some 25 intricate steps to its assembly and, with my rather clumsy fingers, I’d be lucky to make one crane by the end of the year!)
One thousand pennies for peace. With a little over 100 days until 2011, that means ten pennies a day. However, just dropping ten pennies at once into a jar, bowl or piggy bank wouldn’t be very motivating. Therefore, add one more step: As you go through your day and become aware of a blessing, show your gratitude for it with a penny. Look for three blessings in the morning, three in the afternoon, three in the evening and then one more right before bed. Doing this for the next 100 days (or so) will change your heart, vision and behavior. Imagine going through the holiday season focused on blessings rather than on hectic schedules, long lines or over- loaded gift lists.
By the time New Year’s Day rolls around, you’ll have collected at least $10. I would suggest donating that to a cause that will promote peace — whether it be an organization that works for world peace or a local group that helps hurting people achieve peace of heart.
Oh, by the way, there’s one other celebration on Sept. 21: the feast day of St. Matthew. As a tax collector, I have
a sneaking suspicion that he’d be all in favor of my daily tax of “pennies for peace.”