Last night's gathering is filled with small moments of beauty. Somehow, conditions have aligned for us to be around the corner from Martin Luther King Jr's childhood home, across the street from the church he grew up attending (and for which he became the pastor), and just beside a stunning bronze statue of Gandhi. Neelam lives in Brooklyn half the year, and has stayed down in Atlanta a little longer to see this event through. She and Nimo lay out rugs at the for of a stunning mural of MLK Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. Chairs somehow spring up in a semi-circle behind them. As we slip posters and banners and the one-world flag across pillars and windows and cement surfaces, a spontaneous team of youth and adults make "Free Hug" signs and shower passerby with splashes of warmth through their smiling embraces.
As the program begins, we convene around the statue of Gandhi. With candles and flower rangolis delicately placed at his feet, we collectively sing a prayer and Nimo and Ajay place a colorful heart-pin garland around the statue's neck.
Back by the mural, Nimo starts off our evening by inviting Anjali to share Ajay's story of growing up through the love of a few friends-turned labor-of-love service community at the Gandhi Ashram in India. Marco talks about the noble friendships in his intercultural family--as an immigrant from Italy he married a wife from the US later in life and they adopted two now-teenage children from India. Small stories of kindness-- like Matthew's reflection of a man with a rough childhood who now teaches people to read, Cynthia's meditation on kindness to animals, and one immigrant's gratitude for someone who corrected his English rather than laughing at him-- sprinkle our consciousness as Nimo sings "Being Kind". Neelam opens our heart to the power of women and mothers in her story of learning acceptance and religious openness as a pre-teen through her mother's words of care. Teenager "Ziggy Roxxx" makes us all hopeful as he shares his rap on the need to love everyone and stop fighting.
Throughout the evening, heart-shaped fans with "Planting Seeds" lyrics for participants bounce like blurbs of lights in people's hands. Park Ranger Marie dances with her arms up in the back. Uncle James who spontaneously helped us set up in the evening sits quietly at a distance and watches with a subtle grin on his face. Everyone shares small pieces of gratitude at then end and we close the evening with Nimo's "Prayer" song and our hearts are stilled by the collective tapping into a sense of "maitri"-- the simple joy and unspoken depths of our togetherness.