Everyone has probably heard by now that after her sold-out show in Paris last week, Madonna made an impromptu appearance at the Place de la République, singing three songs with her teenage son and a friend playing an acoustic guitar. True, it was a nice gesture, and it was also a photogenic scene, filmed in front of the improvised memorial for the victims of the terrorist attacks.

But even if celebrities visit and have their pictures taken, that’s not really what this memorial is about. It is far more pure and spontaneous than that, something collective and outside the margins.

It’s been exactly a month since the attacks. And that memorial is still as vibrant and wild as ever.

On a recent visit, I was struck by the simple heart and aliveness of the site – nothing planned, no order, no rules or specifications as to what should or should not be there – and by the people, who, like me, were just passing by or came just to see what was here and pay their respects.  There were all sorts of people – young, old, children, Parisians, tourists, couples, people alone or in groups.  As night was falling, dozens and dozens of candles flickered all around the statue amid notes, drawings, flowers old and new, photos, flags… No one was talking, couples held one another, people made their way slowly around the memorial, sometimes stopping, as if bearing witness to something bigger and more inclusive than their « me. » It felt like a gathering of hearts as one, late on a chilly weekday in the middle of the city, a moment of collective grace.