Poignant Gathering in Sadako Peace Garden

Each year on August 6, the anniversary of the US detonation of an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) holds a remembrance event in La Casa’s Sadako Peace Garden. This year marked the 24th annual gathering and it was especially poignant – as just six months ago the Peace Garden was awash in mud and debris after the devastating debris flow of January 9.

In a garden decorated with 1000 paper cranes and now free of mud, poets, musicians, speakers and a dancer remembered the day – 73 years ago – when the United States dropped the first nuclear bomb over the Japanese City of Hiroshima. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Speakers and performers wove stories of hope, remembrance, and concern for the future into a specific story of destruction, this one close to home. La Casa de Maria lost nine buildings and much of its landscaping during the destructive debris flow in January. Though the garden was badly damaged, La Casa’s staff has worked to restore it, even recovering some of its rock elements and a plaque, which had been washed downstream during the epic event.

After a welcome by NAPF’s Rick Wayman, attendees listened to poems, songs, and watched an interpretive dance all aimed at remembering the eventful day 73 years ago and noting the continued need to support the work for peace.

Poet Perie Longo summoned imagery of January’s mud and debris flow in the poem she wrote for and delivered at NAPF’s 24th annual Sadako Peace Day at La Casa de Maria.

Among those who shared, Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Emerita Peri Longo read a poem she wrote for the event about Sadako’s Sasaki’s cranes returning to the garden after the debris flow.

…The gate unlocked since winter’s terror, we walk
with caution once more on this sacred ground.
Awed, the silence profound…gone are the grinds
of machines to lift and remove the eruptions

of mud, to clean and repair, unearth
the stone walls, the podium, the fountain. Our footsteps
crackle on bark chips laid to protect dear earth
once buried when the mountain’s face fell
into the garden’s hold. We bow to see

the rebirth of paper cranes, bursts of color…

The garden’s cranes are an homage to Sadako Sasaki, for whom the site is named. Sadako was a two-year-old girl when the nuclear bomb fell on Hiroshima who died of leukemia linked to radiation from the bomb ten years later. While hospitalized she folded one thousand cranes, saying that she would write peace on their wings so they could fly around the world.  Origami cranes are often folded in her honor and symbolize peace as well as the victims of nuclear war.

Each year, students from the del Sol School in Manhattan Beach makes cranes as part of their peace curriculum and donate them to La Casa de Maria, where they hang for a full year before a new batch is donated. Despite the power of the January’s debris flow, some of last year’s cranes survived and were found hanging in the trees just days after the disaster.

Sarah Witmer the NAPF’s development director invoked the Japanese proverb “Nana korobi, ya oki” which means “Fall down seven times, stand up eight,”  reflecting both the current reality at La Casa de Maria as well as the NAPF’s work on behalf of peace. “It means,” she offered “choosing to never give up hope, and to always strive for more. It means that your focus isn’t on the reality in front of you, but on a greater vision that may not be reality yet.”

Stephanie Glatt, La Casa’s director emerita, was the final speaker. She noted that this was the 24th year that NAFP and La Casa had invited guests to the property to “speak for peace, to pray for peace, and to renew our commitment to work for peace.” She related how since January 9th, the pieces of the garden has started to reappear, “battered, but still here.” Two of the garden’s stones, with delicately carved cranes, had been found, and returned to their place, she relayed.

Musician Bob Nyosui Sedivy closed the program by playing the piece Impermanence on a shakuhachi, a Japanese flute. He shared his interpretation of shifts in the melody beginning with sadness as the staff discovers the destruction of the debris flow at La  Casa, the joy of learning that the stone house is still standing, and then once again a somber note, as the institution understands the enormous task ahead – raising money to rebuild and renew.

Audio files and photos of each performer are located here.