WASHINGTON – A few hours after her second-to-last chemotherapy session,Gita Stevenson,62 ,of McLean,Va.,sat in the Sylvan Theater at the base of the Washington Monument,watching children and adults fly brilliantly colored kites across the partly cloudy sky.
Despite temperatures in the high 90s,and against her doctors' advice,Stevenson attended the Kites for Peace event hosted Tuesday by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University,a spiritual group that teaches meditation classes. She has been a volunteer with the non-profit organization for 25 years.
“Everyone said stay home,” she said,”but my heart said come.”
Every year since 2001,the Brahma Kumaris has hosted an event on June 10 to commemorate the death of the local organization's founder,Dadi Prakasmani,who came to the U.S. from India. This year the theme was Kites for Peace,marked by an afternoon of kite flying and meditation intended to promote peace and bring hope to children living in countries ravaged by war.
People of all ages braved the heat – and the threat of thunderstorms – to support the event. Archit Gupta,12,and Ravi Goshi,11,of Frederick,Md.,turned up to volunteer their services.
Archit said he was moved to support the event by “my motivation for peace in the world.”
Ravi,who was recruited to the cause by Archit and his mother,said,”This whole project is to help others be peaceful.”
The Brahma Kumaris invited local kite club,Wings Over Washington,to participate in the event. Several members of the club flew kites up to 19 feet wide that club treasurer,Barbara Birnman,60,of Germantown,Md.,said could cost a few hundred dollars each. Birnman said she attended the event because she loves to fly kites and because she supports peace.
“I'm a child of the 60s,” she said. “I was an anti-war protester; I'm still an anti-war protester. Like Rodney King said: ‘Why can't we all just get along?'”
Paul LaMasters,52,Birnman's husband and the kite club president,said he was there because “I support kite flying in all its endeavors.”
For the Brahma Kumaris,the event represented more than a gesture for children in war-torn nations. It was also for the benefit of those who were involved.
She said children got involved in the project by buying,painting and then flying the kites,which would later be mailed to children in Iraq and Africa. What those children experienced after their participation in the project,she said,was “a deep sense of happiness.”
“Everyone out here in the sweltering heat is doing this because of love,” she added.
That,she said,is the answer – people cooperating and treating others with compassion.
“The solution is just a thought away,” she said,but the difficulty is getting “everyone to have that thought.”
Stevenson said the obstacle to that way of thinking,especially in D.C.,is “an arrogance of intellect,” in which people focus too much attention on their positions in society and in the workplace. She credits meditation with helping her cope with her breast cancer.
“This program was prepared with a lot of love,” she explained. “I wanted to see how it manifested.”
For the participants,kites hold different but not necessarily contradictory meanings.
LaMasters joked that he got into kite flying because “it was a way to get dates. The women left and the kites stayed.”
Birnman said,”Doesn't matter how young you are,doesn't matter how old; anybody can fly a kite. There's no boundaries with kites.”
After helping the adults set up,the young volunteers,Archit and Ravi,did some kite flying,too.
For them,the symbolism of the kites was even more profound. They both said that people tend to look to the sky in times of distress,and the kites were representative of that search for divine assistance.
“Kites,” Archit said,”are like a telephone pole from God.”