Paper Cranes

2015 August 3

Summer vacation rolled around, and I led my first 6th grade English camp. As an activity for ordinal numbers and giving instructions, I showed my students how to fold a paper crane. I also briefly mentioned “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” and the belief that if one folds a thousand of the paper birds, he/she will be granted a wish.

***

After school, I headed to the courts to play basketball.

The ball flew upward and slowly waltzed along the rim of the basket. It stalled against the backboard momentarily then decided to clumsily roll off. Obeying my instincts, I leaped for the rebound, and I silently celebrated to myself as palm and fingers hit leather.

On my way down, my foot collided with the paint a little harder than I intended. Needles raced through my right leg from my toes to my knee, and I fell into a single-second blackout. I opened my eyes to find five puzzled faces leaning over me, dripping sweat. Nasty.

My first response was to get up but that shot a second set of needles from toes to knee. I was crippled. I wasn't getting up on my own and mobility became a struggle. I managed to limp home that night, but the next morning was disastrous. When I took my first step out of bed, the floor fell through the ground with me following closely behind. I looked over at what should have been my foot and saw a swollen monster.

I told Sen and Chloe (my two co-teachers) about my situation and received immediate assistance: Chloe covered my first class, and Sen rushed over to take me to the hospital. Fortunately, the x-ray showed no sign of broken bones. I took care of business and managed to make it to school in time to teach my last class. I walked in, immediately assuring the kids that I was okay. But I was the one that needed convincing.

Despite my guardian angels (Sen and Chloe), I couldn’t get over how crappy things suddenly became. I was handicapped with a mummified right leg, and it didn’t help that my school was behind a mountainous slant. Chloe also surprised me with a full-sized birthday cake and a small gift for which I was infinitely grateful, but the extra baggage added to my obstacles. So there I was, hopping over a hill better fit for mountain goats while balancing cake, backpack, and crutches. By the time I got home, I was irritated, sweaty, and exhausted. How long was this going to last? I tore open the cake box and attempted to eat my frustration away. I threw what was left of the cake into the fridge. Half.

The principal allowed me to take the next few days off, but I didn’t feel any better the following week. I limped towards my office on crutches, clutching my two new best friends serving as diligent armpit rests. I named them Lefty and Smelly.

When I reached my cubicle, there was a rainbow of paper cranes on my desk. I picked up a neat blue one with crisp edges. On its tail, there was a piece of paper folded into a rectangle and taped to the crane's tail.

To Michael Teacher

I opened the paper to find a letter filled with colorful words of encouragement. I looked at the other cranes and saw that they all had letters taped to their tails. In a foreign city where I had no family, my students, whom I should have been taking care of, had given me the warmest and fuzziest of warm and fuzzy feelings.

***

School rang back in session. Before class, one of my camp students approached me and asked if I got the cranes. I told him yes and thanked him repeatedly. He just smiled and nodded. I could tell he wanted to say something, but he didn’t know how to say it in English. He looked around for one of my co-teachers (who usually translated for my students). No luck. He tried anyway:

“1000 no! But more than zero!”

I smiled at him and said, “Yeah, you’re right. “ I gave him a piece of candy and he bounded off.

I dropped into my chair and pondered on his words for a bit. My summer class couldn't fold enough cranes to grant me a wish, but what they gave was closer to a thousand than zero. It struck me then that I had been lectured by a thirteen-year-old kid (who was my student). I broke into a daydream, warping his broken English into my mom scolding me for whining and yelling at me to be grateful for what I had.

It’s not a thousand, but it’s closer than zero.

It could be worse.

It’s better than nothing.

My sudden disability had sunk me in a rotten mood and negativity spread like a plague, extinguishing happy energy like a large fire blanket. I had not even fully recognized the recent blissful moments.  I had been so pessimistic since my injury that I hadn’t even realized I was no longer depending on the crutches. I leaned them against the cubicle and walked to my classroom.