On Monday, Sherryl and Keith Laws’ backyard looked ready for any other summer picnic. Friends and family milled about, some relaxing in shade to avoid the sun’s simmering rays, others cracking jokes as they admired the sugary white sheet cake.
Suddenly, a hush of anticipation overtook the yard as all turned to the house where two figures emerged.
Scott Laws stepped tentatively across the fine, patchy grass, his eyes covered by childhood friend Paul Saab’s hands. Finally, his eyes flew open.
What he saw were 1,000 rainbow-colored paper cranes that dangled between trees, garnished lawn chairs and dotted the yard’s landscaping.
They were, as the cake stated, “A Thousand Cranes for Scott,” symbols of hope created by his friends who flew in from California the night before, just to deliver them in person.
“Wow,” was all Laws could say.
The cranes were inspired by the story of “Sadako and the 1,000 Cranes,” about a young Japanese girl with leukemia caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. Sadako had heard a legend that anyone who folded a thousand paper cranes would be granted a wish. She began folding with the wish that the gods would make her well again.
By the time she died in 1955, she had folded more than 1,000 cranes. Since then she has become a symbol of courage, hope and strength for those afflicted with cancer.
Laws, an alumnus of Hickman High School and MU, was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004 while working for Microsoft’s Hotmail in Silicon Valley, Calif. Saab, who lived near Laws in the South Bay area, was by his friend’s side during treatment.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with,” Saab said. “I went through the first round of chemo with him; I went to the actual chemo. That was not something I wanted to see again.”
Laws responded well to treatment and was in remission for more than two years.
But in December 2006, doctors discovered tumors in his upper intestine. His cancer was back in an advanced stage. Laws was 29 years old and didn’t have long to live. He returned to his parents’ house in Harrisburg in May to spend time with his family. He celebrated his 30th birthday with family in June. Still, he saw a bright side to the move.
“The truth is, when I moved back, one of the things I was looking forward to was thunderstorms,” Laws said. “The weather is so nice out there that it’s eventually boring. ... It’s been seven years since I’ve seen a proper thunderstorm.”
But back under the Silicon Valley sun, his co-workers knew they had to do something to support their friend.
“As soon as we found out Scott was in this fight, we wanted to do something, but everything we came up with felt very superficial or didn’t involve folks,” said Glenn Beeswanger, the director of the Hotmail team and Laws’ former boss. “Everyone wanted to do a little something to show Scott how we felt.”
Charmaine Lingerfelt found the solution. In doing some research, she came across Sadako’s story.
“I got this idea and got the team together in the office to make these paper cranes,” Lingerfelt said. “I asked people to come into conference rooms and said, ‘Every day, we’re going to teach you to do this origami.’” The craft quickly caught on, with co-workers folding cranes at night and on weekends with family and friends.
After only two weeks, the office had made more than 1,000 cranes, and once Lingerfelt had contacted Sherryl Laws, they decided to deliver the rainbow flock in person.
Beeswanger, Lingerfelt and five others from Microsoft arrived in Kansas City on Sunday night to surprise their friend. Sherryl Laws and her friends set up the party in the backyard under the guise of a Bible study luncheon and asked her son’s old friend, Saab, who happened to be visiting Columbia, to help.
As the shock and confusion on Scott Laws’ face quickly morphed into surer and stronger elation, it was clear the planning had paid off.
“Wow, how did all of you guys get here?” he asked jokingly.
“With an airplane,” one of his friends quipped right back, before they fiercely embraced with a laugh.
“I had to do a double-take, like ‘Am I seeing what I’m seeing?’” said Laws, still smiling in disbelief. “I’m actually surprised that they were able to surprise me. It took two months to plan, and I didn’t have the slightest clue.”
In addition to the crane unveiling, Sherryl Laws and Lingerfelt also planned activities for the Microsoft co-workers, many of whom were coming to Missouri for the first time. Dinner at Shakespeare’s, Scott Laws’ favorite pizza place, was followed by jet-skiing on a friend’s lake and a private screening of the latest Harry Potter movie.
“I’m going to up my painkillers a little bit so I can be social,” Scott Laws said, chuckling. “It’s going to be fun. I’m just enjoying seeing everyone.”
Keith Laws said the secrecy was worth it if only to see his son happy in the face of an uncertain future.
“He’s getting to where he doesn’t have a lot of energy, so he sleeps a lot and doesn’t want to do things,” he said as he watched his son joke with his friends and examine the pictures from California they brought with them. “When these guys show up, it’s another story. It’s good to see him out there smiling.”
“It literally rallies him,” said Sherryl Laws. “He needs this so much.”
She wiped tears from her eyes, glancing at her son talking about his passion — computers — with his friends around their dining room table, an ordinary event she wants to take in while she can.
She said she was praying for a miracle to give them as much time with their son as they can have. Part of that time will be spent on the Alaskan cruise Scott Laws arranged for his family to take later on this summer, something he’s always wanted to do.
“We don’t give up, and we’re going to treasure every day we have,” Sherryl Laws said, a weak smile pushing through her tears. “Miracles do happen.”