I have a video Jonah made in which he (dramatically, and with a driving soundtrack, to boot) thanks a friend for teaching him how to fold t-shirts. We’ll not get into how he missed his parents’ instruction in that regard. The video ends with Jonah pointing to the mess in his t-shirt drawer and proclaiming, “This will end … <he pauses to consider what he’s saying> … next week. I will be putting your advice into effect come … <he again pauses> … whenever I get around to it.”
I’m not sure the t-shirt folding ever happened, but I know for a certainty that other folding did. Jonah was a big fan of origami and he was able to create some pretty fancy designs, including birds and elephants. I will treasure these forever.
Lots of stuff folds, of course. Flowers create exquisite designs when their petals fold. Mountains and valleys appear when earth folds. Sound is made as air folds. And solar power can be boosted when light folds.
Origami begins, simply and humbly, with a single piece of paper. Without scissors, tape or glue, astoundingly complicated designs “unfold.” What makes this such a fascinating art form is that no materials are added or subtracted. You end with what you began, only prettier.
At a macro level, all existence functions this way. Lavoisier’s 18th century discovery that matter is neither created nor destroyed suggests the universe isn’t so different from origami. Which means that you and I, in our eight or nine decades of life, also follow Lavoisier’s principle.
We change, but we stay the same. Our journey through life gives us folds, too. Wrinkles on our faces. Wrinkles on our souls. Same person, changed appearance and changed spirit. We fold, but that doesn’t mean we’re finished.
The Talmud relates a story of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananya and the daughter of the Roman Emperor, who asked him why God would place so much wisdom in such an ugly vessel. He instructed her to move her father’s finest wines into gold and silver vessels which, of course, spoiled the wine. When her father demanded an explanation, she told him what took place between her and Rabbi Yehoshua. The emperor summoned the rabbi and asked him, “Why did you tell her to do that?” Rabbi Yehoshua explained that he was simply answering her question. Just as wine is best preserved in humble vessels, so too is wisdom.
We may think our wrinkles, or other “imperfect” aspects of our bodies, detract from our value. But we mustn’t mistake the vessel for its contents. A person’s true worth resides within.
But it can take decades to acquire such wisdom. The book of Micah teaches us, “What is asked of you? To do justice, love goodness, and walk humbly with God.” Our vessels are superbly equipped to accomplish these tasks.
It takes various amounts of time to fold that into our lives. Even knowing it, we delay (like Jonah and his t-shirts), leaving the drawer a mess. While folding t-shirts has limited (though certainly not insignificant) value, the origami of our lives can have purpose and value without end, creating exquisite art to be admired by us all.
This piece expands upon one that appeared in Makom, the newsletter of Woodlands Community Temple (Nov 2012).