• Gretel Enck

Remembering Leonard Bird



A handful of years ago I found a poignant little book called Folding Paper Cranes, by Leonard Bird. As you can imagine I snapped it right up on title alone. Bird was a soldier in Korea, then came home and as a Marine was subject to radiation exposure in the Nevada desert. And I do mean subject. In 1957 he and his fellow Marines were placed in trenches close to the detonation zone of the largest above-ground nuclear detonation in history in order to determine effects on the human body.

In the years following, Bird made pilgrimages to Japan, to the peace park in Hiroshima. He also became a professor and a writer. He called Folding Paper Cranes his "small witness." And of course Bird developed many kinds of cancers, which ultimately took his life. He died about a year ago at the age of 74.

Toward the end of his life, Bird kept a blog. His final entry included these words, which I think are worth repeating: “My goal is to live free – as long as possible. With as much relish, awe and gratitude as possible. Whether for a week, a month, or one or two last gorgeous seasons, my goal is to inhale this wondrous world, reach out to those whose hunger touches mine, and sing my songs. That, Brothers and Sisters, is freedom. That’s heart dancing delight. NOW, today, this soul sings.”

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