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Late one night, I read Sadako’s Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. The book is based on the true story of a little girl called Sadako who contracts Leukemia ten years after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My heart attached itself to the lively, petite, friendly, active Sadako. Her energy is infectious and it leaps out of the pages and wants to make you skip, as you navigate the stairs and walk to school.

Sadako was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ten years later, her body is wracked with the unmistakable signs of Leukemia, a disease her family knows as the ‘Atom-Bomb’ disease. Her friend gives her hope and says when she makes a thousand paper cranes, she will become better. Sadako’s older brother offers to hand the paper cranes for her and pretty soon, the soaring cranes of every hue and size adorn her hospital room.

According to the book, she is on her 644th crane when she dies, but her brother says she really made 1400 paper cranes and some of her paper cranes are still available for viewing as a message for peace. It is a poignant story, and just writing the summary brought back the details of a lively spirit forever taken from the world, and I was shaken.

The nuclear threat is ever there.

Mindless tweets on the subject by dictators leave me in an uneasy state of mind. We have the power to annihilate all lifeforms and spread widespread suffering. How many Sadako’s does humanity have to lose before we embrace all-encompassing peace? Isn’t one Sadako too many?

Compellingly told, it is a light book with a heavy message. Oh! How heartless is warfare and why oh why did humanity have to develop nuclear weapons? I said aloud – a loud lament with silence as an answer.

In the world today, we still have roughly 18000 weapons, some of which are considered strategic weapons which means they can be launched into countries half a globe away. Most of these remaining weapons are much more powerful than the ones dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan 75 years ago. The number of nuclear weapons has come down considerably from 70000 weapons in 1985.  

Humans still have with them, the power to destroy Earth and all its life-forms many times over. Even as the Earth is reeling from the Coronavirus attacks, the blasts in Lebanon are a chilling reminder of what is possible with the remaining arsenal of weapons in the world: nuclear or otherwise.

In a mutinous mood, I stormed into the concluding essay on the Value of Science in Richard Feynman’s What Do You Care What Others Think? What possible excuse had he for his work on the Nuclear bomb. 

Much as I wanted to storm and rage, I found myself reading the whole essay. He started the essay with something he had heard from a monk in a Buddhist monastery once:

To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell.

It is a valuable essay and well worth reading. It reminded me of the beautiful saying by Ursula Le Guin in the Earthsea books,

“To light a candle is to cast a shadow…” 

The value of science is similar – while it is hugely important for understanding our universe,  there is also the troubling underbelly of Science using the same understanding with mal-intent or certainly unintended intent. 

Troubling? Yes.

But did you know, said a small voice in my brain, paper cranes are a symbol of hope and peace in Japan? We can hope and have faith in our uncommon knack to find solutions even as we create more problems.


Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

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