Monday, January 2, 2017


"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." -Lao Tzu

     There's an old Japanese tradition that says if you fold one thousand paper cranes, you'll be granted a wish. I did this once before, in 1991, just before I left for USMC boot camp. My wish wasn't that I survive the training, or for safety in the war that was currently being fought. I just wished that I could find someone that loved me for who I am, and that she and I would be able to build a life together. Hopefully before I was killed in a war.

My first 1000 Cranes

     Well, the First Gulf War ended while I was finishing six months of Basic, Infantry and Artillery schools, so I got a reprieve on time. I found my other half five years later, and we have traveled the ups and downs of life together ever since. I got my wish, but not in the timeline I had planned in my head.

     I tell you that to tell you this...

     2016 was a wild year. I know that time is a construct of humans, and as such trying to assign the blame for the stuff that happened on this last trip around the sun on a specific year is a fools errand. But since that is how we humans measure things, I'm going to go ahead and stick with what we know. 2016 wasn't too great.

     We saw the deaths of a great many famous and beloved people. Artists and musicians, friends and family. We saw the world become a less safe place, with more hatred and war and discontent in the mix. Disturbingly, we also saw the rise of Donald Trump. That's a subject for an entirely separate post.

     Suffice to say, the America that I once knew as a relative haven against the crazy dictators and outright hatred inherent in the divisions of the outside world is fading fast. The racial, ethnic and political and religious tensions are bubbling to the surface at a shockingly fast pace. People who have felt scared to air their prejudices due to more calls for acceptance of those different from them by the majority of our countrymen have suddenly been given a platform by the rise of Trump to "tell it like it is" and "not be politically correct" and to come forward with their particular brand of hate. 

     I also had the privilege of experiencing the protests at Standing Rock first hand. After three visits there, many experiences, and talking with a great many people, I gained a new awareness of not just the power of the human spirit, but also of the disturbing effects of our country's addiction to fossil fuels and the possible future issues my children and grandchildren will face if nothing is done.

     Approaching the beginning of 2017, I found myself knocked far, far off of any semblance of center, and I found my anxiety ramped up far beyond anywhere it has previously been. I've struggled with PTSD, depression, and anxiety before. But the last few months of 2016 really knocked me for a loop. I decided that I needed a way to find some balance again. A way of tuning out the march of the Trumpkins, of ignoring the divisions rising at Standing Rock amongst the veterans and the natives alike, of becoming blissfully unaware of the growing threat of fossil fuel dependence. But the only true way to do that is lobotomy or death, and since neither of those are particularly appealing to me, I decided to try the 1000 crane maneuver once more.

     I was hoping to find a focus for my mind while keeping my hands busy with things other than Facebook updates or news about politics or DAPL or the growing unrest across the earth. I wanted to contemplate the meaning of the word 'Peace' in every way I could imagine. On an outing to a Michael's store, I happened across origami supplies and picked up enough squares of paper to achieve my goal. This differed greatly from my 1990-1991 attempt in that back then, I made most of my cranes from paper from random places, often torn into squares from larger pieces.

crane number one

     I folded Crane #1 on the evening of December 15, 2016. As I folded that first crane, I found myself more focused on remembering how to fold a crane than on Peace. Between the hyper children playing with our two new and very excitable puppies, and trying to re-learn the folds, I initially thought that perhaps my search for peace was more than likely destined to fail.

995 to go!

     Fortunately, within about five cranes it was not only bedtime for the youngers, but my fingers were finally remembering what to do when to make acceptable cranes. I folded a few more and called it a night. Over the course of the next 15 days, my hands became more nimble in their actions, and I was able to focus more on my thoughts as I folded, considering definitions, possibilities, implications. What could I do to find inner peace? What could I do to help others find peace? How could peace between factions be achieved? What IS peace?

How do you find Inner Peace? Maybe brownies?

     I'll tell you this. Inner Peace is both easy and impossible.

     When I look at the issues facing us in 2017, it is easy to lose that IP. I am a common man with influence over nothing except my immediate family, and even that is sketchy from time to time. So how can I implement change that could help get the world off of our addiction to fossil fuels? How can a guy like me ensure that my kids and their kids will be able to breathe clean air or drink clean water? What could I possibly do to stand against an incoming administration that seems hell bent on dismantling almost every department that protects people, education, the environment, foreign relations, domestic programs, etc.? How can I find peace if I want to stand against people that cherry pick the Constitution, the bible, and historical leaders to support their ideologies and disrespect the very things they quote from? The feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming. That's the impossible seeming part.

    But then I talk to people that say things aren't as bad as I think they are. After all, the Cubbies won the series, the tiger population is making a comeback. Even here in the US, the economy is recovering, the markets are up, unemployment is down. Things are getting better. If I just focus on these things and ignore the bad things, then finding some IP is pretty easy. It's called "Living in the Now". Learning to appreciate this moment and not to worry about the past or the future. I have found this VERY easy to do, as I sit in my warm house, sheltered against the negative temperatures and swirling snow just outside my windows, watching my healthy children play with the dogs after filling their bellies with food, and before they get tucked in to their soft, warm beds for a secure night of sleep. I am really, truly blessed in my life. What do I possibly have to complain about? IP in this mindset is simple.

     But during the process of folding these thousand cranes, I could not seem to find a balance between the two. I can go about my personal life and be content with all that I have, or I can consider the future for my children and freak out at all of the warning signs I see pointing to Very Bad Things coming. In one, I am calm and peaceful, in the other...chaos.

     OK, so maybe I needed to focus on World Peace. There are many, many peaceful places in the world. So many good people. The holidays often bring out the best in people. There are people all over the world working hard to make the future a better place. Maybe things aren't that bad globally. Maybe there is a chance for humanity! When I stepped away from folding, there were the white Trumpkins having tantrums in stores about not getting their coffee fast enough, or being asked to buy a reusable bag for a dollar, or chewing out people with brown skin for making them wait and telling them to "go back where you came from".

     Maybe there wasn't hope for humanity after all. I folded more cranes and practiced my breathing.

As my crane count went into the hundreds, I pondered the meaning of peace. Defined, it is "freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility." and "freedom from or the cessation of war or violence." How can a single person achieve these things?

     Our country has happily engaged in non-peace my entire life. I was born during Vietnam. Raised during the "Cold War" and the nebulous and ongoing "War on Drugs" and "War on Crime". I came of age during the First Gulf War, the Bosnian War, ongoing wars in the Middle East and south of our own border in South and Central Americas. I started a family during the Second Gulf War.

     Moving forward from this point in time, our incoming administration has promised to fight ISIS much more aggressively than our current administration. The only way for that to happen is to increase our troop deployments, our aerial bombing campaigns... our war and violence. They have incomprehensibly promised to keep the war out of America by bringing the war TO America, in the guise of barring Muslims from the country and restricting the actions of Muslim Americans here at home. Again, not much hope for peace there. They've promised to roll back environmental protections and regulations designed to protect clean air and clean water, arguing that it will all somehow magically work out in the end because, Capitalism. This will certainly NOT lead to freedom from disturbance, or do anything to help quiet and tranquility in the masses.

So how do we get peace? Many people smarter than I have weighed in on the subject. Martin Luther King jr., Albert Einstein, and even Ronald Reagan all said something similar,

"True peace is not the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice." - MLKjr.

"Peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice, of law, of order - in short, of government." - Einstein

"Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means." - Reagan

"Real peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of justice." - Harrison Ford as President Marlowe in the movie 'Air Force One'. 

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. - my motto for 2017.

     Along my adventure in folding, I had discovered one late night that I was able to fold a crane from start to finish with my eyes closed. That first one was done while I was also mostly dozing, but when I finished and took a look at it, I was happily surprised by the outcome!

Eyes closed crane #1

     It was a crane, just like the hundreds folded before it. So as the days went by, I would close my eyes and fold and think about my new motto.
Ohhhh, half way there...ohh, oh... Living on a prayer

     Justice for all. The last line of our Pledge of Allegiance. Yet another 'American Institution' that has been bastardized over the years to fit the fears of the times. There was no "under God" until the McCarthy era 'Red Scare' in the 50's, when if you weren't a 'God fearing Christian' then you must be a 'Godless Commie Bastard'. We pledge allegiance to a flag, to the Republic for which it stands, to the unity of that nation. Promising "liberty and justice for all."

     For all. For every American Citizen. Regardless of their political leaning. Regardless of their religion. Regardless of their race, creed, gender, sexual orientation... Regardless of whether they like this country or not. We pledge liberty and justice FOR ALL. Yet we fall far short of achieving that pledge. We fall far short in our practice of the founding documents. We bicker over what amendments mean. What we think the founders meant when they wrote them. We choose which parts of which amendments we like, and which we don't, and we amend the amendments with laws and statutes. We let our "leaders" continue to twist and distort the founding documents to suit their needs and their friends needs, but seldom the needs of the actual constituency.

This 'peace' thing is complicated... keep folding...

     Worst of all, we are so easily led astray from the real issues by flashy words and ideas from the extremists on all sides, so we remain divided into factions that will never submit to compromise.

     So how do I find peace in this world? I can't have IP and be attuned to what is happening in the world. I can't have WP because I'm just one person in a sea of billions. I can have mental peace if I just ignore everything bad and focus on the good, but that's certainly not going to lead to long term peace.

     I folded most of the last three hundred cranes with my eyes closed, or my eyebrows furrowed, or both. Concentrating as hard as I could on peace.

     But I kept coming back to the truths behind my personal motto for 2017... I wouldn't find peace by ignoring conflict. I would find peace by working for justice for all.

     The last day of the year, I was joined by my dad and my kids to go and see the movie 'Rogue One'. I was fully prepared to let go of my thoughts on peace for awhile, and lose myself in a good Star Wars movie for a couple of hours.


OK, So the movie was really, very good... as expected. I can totally see why Trumpkins would think the entire movie was to disparage the incoming administration. After all, a plucky band of misfits goes through wacky shenanigans as a megalomaniacal leader solidifies his power over his new Empire by weakening the current government, installing his own puppets to control the masses, and decides that fear and hatred are the way to keep the control over the people. The rebels are fighting against a corrupt Empire to try for a better future. The Imperial leaders are all out for themselves. The message of rising up to fight against the Empire is strong throughout the movie. So yeah, Trumpkins can totally make the connection between their leader and Krennic, the wanna be head bad guy with delusions of grandeur that doesn't admit to his flaws and therefore is eventually destroyed by them. 

   Anyway, by the end of the movie, all of the good guys and most of the bad guys are dead. Killed off in the efforts to get the plans for the Death Star to the rebels. It's a little dark, actually. I mean, I knew that since none of the characters in this movie were in the original Episode IV, they'd have to be doing something else. But I didn't think the writers would just kill everybody.

     This movie didn't help my quest for peace much at first. But when I went home and started folding the final cranes before the new year began, I realized that seeing the movie had answered many of the conflicting emotions within me. From Chirrut Imwe chanting "I am one with the Force and the Force is with me", to the determination of Jyn to do what is right for the many, even though it doesn't end well for the few. I found my peace.

Welcome back to those who didn't want spoilers.

     I found my peace when I was folding the last few dozen cranes on New Year's Eve. "I am one with the Force and the Force is with me" could just as easily been moved into my head and heart by replacing the Force with God, the Creator, Wakan Tanka to the Lakota, the Great Mystery, or heck... leaving it as "the Force", because what do any of us really know about God?

Paper for the 1000th crane, from the remainder of paper used for our wedding programs.

     After folding Crane #999, my wife gave me a piece of paper from her paper collection (she really likes paper) that had been left over from making our wedding programs. I colored in in many amorphous shapes of many colors, to represent not just the conflicting thoughts and feelings within me, but also the different factions at the camps in Standing Rock, and the opposing sides of the whole DAPL issue, and the conflicting views of my friends and family, and the conflicting nations and ideologies battling each other all across the globe. Look at that sheet up there. Many colors, many ways of looking at the world. But still all contained on the one square of paper.

     As I folded the last crane, I thought about how wonderful it would be if all of those colors worked together as the crane emerged. Something beautiful coming from unity and harmony.

From Peace.

   It occurred to me that my peace would not be a one sided piece of paper. It would have to come from a mass of conflicting ideas, a plan of folding and creasing and unfolding and twisting and turning. I will need to work for my peace, and it will not come without a price. But if it works, I can make something beautiful out of that Peace.

     I spread out all one thousand cranes and my daughter helped me sort them into colors and create a color wheel of cranes.

     In the sorting, we had to pluck out some random things that had found their way into the box in which I was storing the finished cranes. Pens, markers, scraps of paper, unfolded origami paper, dog hair, a kitchen knife (because why not?) I know that the metaphor is easy - that some things would need to be expunged to make the wheel work, much like some elements in our society will need to be removed to keep the country working - much easier than the reality of things. But I liked the way it all came together in the end. One thousand individual cranes unifying to create a color wheel. The sum larger than the parts. It also helped me with peace.

     My peace is in the common good. Both in my own happiness and success and the happiness and successes of others. Peace will ebb and flow like the tides, coming in when I know my Muslim friends feel safe within their homes and communities. When I see people coming together to help others, even at a cost to themselves. When I hear real leaders stand up and fight for a future for my offspring. It goes when I hear about the growing number of inept people being put in the incoming administration. When I see the threats to the foundations of this country and to the ability of the planet to continue supporting human life. So I will take my peace like the tides. I will revel in it while the tide is in, and I will fight for it when the tide is out.

     Peace is not a destination, but a continuing journey to seek while we still have breath. As we continue on the path of finding that justice for everyone, my peace will lie in the fight as well as the tranquility. My meditations on peace led me to my wish upon completion of the cranes.

     I wish for everyone to have the courage to face reality and the struggles that we share with the peace that can only come with justice for all. For humanity to set aside the petty differences and come together to create something truly beautiful.

     I wish for peace of mind, body and spirit in the challenges that are to come.

     I discovered that I am at peace with the knowledge that humanity will get the outcome it deserves, one way or the other. But my wish is for a continued future of peace for my children's children and beyond.

The journey of a thousand cranes begins with a single fold. The journey to a sustainable future begins with a single person. Standing Rock taught me that regular people coming together can have an influence on how things are done. It taught me that we cannot let the divisions in ourselves negate that fight against the common enemy. And although I am back home now, I can still Stand with Standing Rock by becoming a Standing Rock in my own community. Change starts locally.

     Our mayor made a proclamation a couple years ago to transition our energy usage from coal to sustainable methods by the year 2031. It can be done, but we are going to need to wake up as a community and do a few things differently than we have in the past. So I'll chase peace here by keeping our local government on task. When we succeed, we can be a model for other communities. Change is hard, but we can do it together.

     Together we will create the changes that will ensure a future for the coming generations.

     Together we will stand against tyranny and injustice.

     Together we will accomplish what divided we can not. There is always room for compromise, but it must be mutual. There is always room for discussion, but all voices must be heard.

     I wish to find peace within and without soon. A thousand cranes have been folded for this wish. Now it is time to begin the work of making that wish come true. Will you join me? Will you accept the challenge of standing with the cranes for this wish? Are you ready to be a Standing Rock in your own community? Because we cannot sit back and hope for a good future without being willing to take a stand for it, and it starts with the individual. It starts with you. 

     Obtaining peace may require periods of decided unrest.
Unfortunately, sides are being chosen, with factions struggling for control of those sides. But the time has come for good people with strong hearts to set aside the little things and stand up for the good in all things. To stand up for justice against those who would remove it for their own benefit. To stand up for what this country was meant to be, a nation of freedom and of laws that every citizen is accountable to, not just the poorest and weakest amongst us. A nation of liberty and justice for all. A nation that is a shining beacon to other nations of how to achieve PEACE. There will be a price. But I'd rather meet the Great Mystery knowing I did everything I could for true peace, instead of trying to explain how I was waiting to see what would happen, and hoping things would work out for the best without my input. I will fight for the common good, and in that struggle, I shall find my peace.

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.

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