Paris Diaries #8: Healing our World

December 13th, 2015 -- by Denise Henrikson and Lisa Marcus
Photos by Christine Castigliano

For our last day in Paris, we wanted to bring the healing beauty of the music and the salmon, and the prayers that had been gathering since the beginning of the project, to the neighborhood where the terrorist attacks had happened exactly one month before. So we took the metro to that general area and wandered the streets until 4:00 where we had scheduled to meet others at the corner of Rue Albert and Rue Bichat in District 11.

In our wanderings, we came to Place de la Republique, where the ten thousand pairs of shoes had been laid out not long ago, the day before the UN Climate talks began. There, we were moved as we approached. The entire circular base of the large center statue was covered with lit candles, photos, notes, signs, mounds of flowers - each an individual offering of love - spilling out onto the ground. People were all around in silent reverence, and off to the side others were gathered, playing music together.

From there, we walked along the canal, realizing that we'd been here before when we had gotten lost on our way to the sunrise ceremony of the Kichwa, indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. We crossed a bridge and as we walked up Rue Albert, saw, in the distance, many prayer flags were strung from balconies, criss crossing the intersection and streets.

As we got close, a similar scene unfolded to that at Place de la Republic. Many people were gathered at the intersection where two boarded up corner restaurants had mounds of flowers, and burning candles, and words, and poems, and pictures, and art. It made me think of the Swedish proverb, "Shared grief is half grief. Shared joy is double joy."

A small group of people had arranged this gathering to honor their grief and praise the people who are no longer with us, as well as to heal the community from their shared trauma; and the whole neighborhood was there, writing prayers to clip to tree branches and stapling prayer flags to hang on strings from multiple stories of balconies.

We offered to help with the flags and met a woman whose sister owns the restaurant directly across from those that had been hit. We decided to eat there to support the community. Our waiter, a warm and friendly young man, originally from the States , had been working during the attacks and he told us his story. We were struck by his willingness to be vulnerable and his faith in humanity, despite having gone through what he went through.

Some of our group went out to listen to the people gathered who were singing together in the street to close their community ritual. After dinner, we went into the intersection where an ebb and flow of people continued. As Paul played his flute and we danced with the salmon, people approached us to listen, to talk, and to dance other salmon we'd brought with us.

One woman offered us many gifts of food that she had prayed over. We met one of the other organizers of the community ritual, and gave her a salmon to hang from a balcony over the intersection. We'll be making and sending them prayer flags to add to the others as well. There was such a feeling there of love and hope.

We then walked the streets of the neighborhood, swimming the salmon in prayer to Paul's beautiful flute. Crossing the canal on high arched pedestrian bridges and making our way along its shores, the salmon danced their prayers. It was getting late and cold, and we hadn't packed yet for our morning flights home, but we chose to visit one more site.

On approaching, we knew where people had died by the candles, beautiful words, pictures, and mounds of flowers. Sitting in front of the first cafe that had reopened since the attacks a month ago, was a man from China who had brought an interactive art project called "Invitation." For the project, he would photograph people's eyes and they would write their thoughts around the photograph about what had happened. It was an exploration of humanity, driven by a question he had about how people feel and what they think, including those who commit these types of acts and those impacted. It was about the endurance of love and the healing of community.

As I was walking home, I thought about our project and what our question is… Can beauty open our hearts to experience our interconnection with each other and the other lives that share our Mother Earth?

See more images from our final day on Facebook.

(These diaries are also being posted by Yes! Magazine under the #ParisDiaries hashtag.)


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