What a strange, tumultuous five days it has been here in Paris. It is no exaggeration to say that I’ve never experienced anything like it, here or anywhere.
We’ve gone from stunned horror and outrage to raw fear and anxiety to awe and amazement and much, much more within such a brief time frame, beginning with the violent, murderous attack at Charlie Hebdo around midday on Wednesday and culminating with the magnificent marches throughout France (and elsewhere in the world) yesterday (and Saturday). In between, on Thursday and Friday, there was more murder and mayhem. Those are the terrible facts, and because of them the lives of the victims and their families are changed forever, as are the lives of us all, each and every one of us.
And yet, something unthinkably marvelous has arisen from something unthinkably horrific. What I have found so astounding is what can be called a spontaneous « awakening » to the oneness of all beings by much of the population: Je suis Charlie.
I saw it yesterday in the people packed with me in the Métro on the way to the march. The crowd was quiet and solemn, soft and dignified, without drama, yet fully alive and aware of the moment and the event, the place and time and extraordinary circumstance in the middle of a Sunday afternoon in early January. There was something both transcendent and grounded about it.
The notion of « Je suis Charlie » is, from a purely intellectual perspective, incomprehensible: How can anyone « be » Charlie (Hebdo)? But this is not by any means an intellectual statement. It’s a logic-defying « spiritual » view that no one can define but everyone can experience; in fact, any attempted definition only serves to deflate and divide, while the « je suis » formulas (je suis Charlie, je suis police, je suis Jewish, je suis Muslim, etc.) are defiantly, subversively all-inclusive. They « elevate » the infinitely small and personal individual to the infinitely great and impersonal whole in which we are all one.
Whether you marched yesterday or not, whether you say Je suis Charlie or not, whether you « agree » or « disagree » with whatever position, you are a part of that infinitely great and impersonal whole. And within that whole, the only thing we share are our differences, in all their splendid (im)perfection! We’re all in this together.
As with all things, this Je suis Charlie experience of oneness will change. The dynamic of unity and peacemaking will, alas, fade. But that so many have experienced this non-separation, however minutely and fleetingly, will not be without consequence.