I lost my heart just a little this morning, sitting on a folding chair on the floor of Key Arena, but I wasn't expecting to. This morning, my third day of covering Seeds of Compassion events, I gamely plopped myself down in the media section, ready to take notes, never expecting the emotional roller coaster that was to come.
It's "Children & Youth Day" - a day when thousands of kids get out of class and get on a bus to see the Dalai Lama. The Key Arena - site of the Scorpions and AC/DC concerts of my youth - is now packed to the rafters with chatty, excited little kids. The energy in the room, to say the least, is electric. An ocean of kids in matching "compassion" t-shirts, wriggling impatiently; fifteen hundred kids and their teachers, from 433 classrooms across our state.
Fifteen hundred little kids all leaping to their feet, clapping hands over head and screaming at the first sight of the elderly monk in purple robes, bowing and beaming at them, hands in prayer. I felt a rush of emotion as I watched the kindergartners directly in front of me go absolutely nuts. Do they know who he is, I wondered? How much can children this young really understand? A lot, as it turns out.
Seeds executive director Raj Manhas took the stage first and told the kids, "You are the compassion. You are the hope. You are the future of humanity." I have missed Raj; missed his elegance and eloquence, and it was good to see him back where he ought to be, revving up a bunch of kids.
"What I love especially about the Dalai Lama is his scholarly spirit," said state superintendent of public schools Terry Bergeson, putting her finger on a feeling I've had all week. "Combine that with a compassionate heart and you can change the world forever!"
The speakers were wise enough to keep their comments brief. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels introduced a very poised 7th grader and youth ambassador, Jessica Markowitz. "Please know that we hope for peace for all the children and people of Tibet," she told His Holiness. The kids in the crowd loved seeing one of their own on stage and roared their approval.
An impassioned poetry performance by "spoken word artist" Laura "Peace" Kelley took the spirits of the crowd up a notch by exalting "Our united lumination!"
"We are all going to be fine," she told the kids, "We were put here together."
Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone and author of A Long Way Gone, told the kids that "the courage that it takes to resist violence is much stronger than the courage it takes to act violently."
Native American storyteller Gene Tagaban next held the crowd rapt with a coyote tale about compassion, a beautiful native drum and dance performance. "Welcome to the honorable and noble children of this great land!
"One heart, one drum!" he chanted, thumping out his heartbeat on his chest, and fifteen thousand kids jumped again to their feet to join in. I could not wipe the idiotic smile off my face as I gazed at this spectacle of thousands of children thumping out their heartbeats.
The Dalai Lama was given a drum and joined in, smiling serenely as he banged along, his stoic interpreter banging away right next to him. It can't get better than this, I thought; by now the stage was packed with native dancers, swooping, playing and twirling. The crowd was fully engaged, so rapt that when Tagaban suddenly said, "Listen! Listen!" there was total silence in the Key Arena.
I have never seen a sight like that; never seen thousands of kids go suddenly, completely quiet. In that instant, the walls seemed to breathe. The middle-aged male producer next to me had tears rolling down his cheeks, and I'm not sorry to report that the memory of that moment makes me well up every time.
Finally, it was the Dalai Lama's turn to speak. I was relieved to see the subtitles projected on the jumbo screen; I'd been wondering what the kids would make of His Holiness' heavy accent.
"The very purpose of our life, the very purpose of our existence is our happiness," he told the kids. "From birth, everyone has the same right - a happy life, successful life."
He talked about the importance of having a "calm mind."
"In spite of heartbroken news and difficulty (in Tibet)," he said, "My mind is on a deeper level calm, so that affects my body health. I sleep undisturbed.
"Because of technology, the whole world - six billion human beings - heavily interdependent. That's the new reality."
He talked about how as the kids grow up, gain money and success, they should never lose sight of this; never lose their affection for their fellow man. "When affection is there, even dangerous things can be limited," he said.
"The concept of 'we' is a realistic approach. The whole world is just one entity. We need the whole world. Just like a family member...one human family."
"I need you. I need you," the Dalai Lama said to the children.
What could be more empowering?
Afterwards, I asked a few kids for their reaction. "It was amazing - so cool!" said one 5th grade girl; another told me, "It was great!" Standing next to her, her teacher wiped the tears off her face and said "I loved it; it was so beautiful, so moving. I can't wait to get back to class and hear what the kids thought!"