Healing the World, One Art Journal Page at a Time

Last November Paris was attacked by terrorists. The whole world, it seems, watched in horror as the news came in. My heart was at once broken and fearful. My husband, Mark, and I had made plans to visit Paris in the coming year and we wondered, would there be more violence? How would Paris recover?

As I drove to my studio to teach art journaling the next night I listened to NPR and Robert Siegel's piece on the aftermath. He spoke about the day of mourning planned for the Monday following the attack and he talked, in depth, about a baker he had spoken with who had been in the center of the terrifying chaos. The gunfire had hit his shop yet no one had been harmed there. But other, more unfortunate people, had been murdered right outside his boulangerie. The baker, Ahmed Meziane, said that he'd thought about it and had decided that he would stay open that day, despite the bullets, the broken glass and the bloodshed. He said: 

I am a baker and the son of a baker. I know very well that bread, even during wartime, must always be made. Because for the people, it's a necessity.  If other jobs close, it's not serious. But bread is essential. Bread is something that everyone lives with, the rich, the poor--everyone eats bread. It's a noble profession, and I'm really very proud to be a baker.

I heard his words that night and they brought me to tears. I agreed with him, bread is essential. And I've also always believed that bread is one of those things that you can find in every culture. It's a unifier. It's a commonality amongst all peoples. And so, this baker really touched my heart that night with his bread/peace/love offering and he gave me some hope for Paris, and for humanity.

When I got to the studio I made a page in honor of him, with his words right on the page. I found images of bread from magazines and collaged them on. I used stencils of maps and flourishes. I even used a stamp of Paris that I had bought just that day for the studio. And I used red ink drips down the page...a fairly graphic representation of the bloodshed from the attacks.

Creating that page was cathartic for me. But it was also my plea to the Universe. Heal us.

When I shared the page that night with my students they encouraged me to take it to him when I went to Paris in the spring. 

And so...

I did.

Actually, I almost didn't. 

For some reason, I sort of lost my nerve. It was one thing to plan to bring the pages. It was another thing to track down the baker and present him with the piece. What if we couldn't find the boulangerie? What if he wasn't there? What if he was offended by my art? What if we couldn't communicate? What if he didn't understand my offering?

I hemmed and hawed. And Mark, my greatest cheerleader, said, "I'm not telling you what to do, But, I'm just wondering how you'll feel if you don't do it."

So yeah. I needed to do it.

It was our last day in Paris. We searched the internet, reread the piece on NPR's website, searched Google maps. (This was one obscure little boulangerie!) Finally, Mark found it and I worked out the Metro ride there. Before leaving our flat, I wrote out a message to Monsieur Meziane in English and then translated it into French. It appeared, from the piece on NPR that he did not speak English. And all I can say in French is "Parlez vous Anglais?" 

We packed up our bags for the day and headed out.

The bakery, Patisserie-Boulangerie Lina, is in the 10th Arrondissement, in an area not much frequented by tourists. We entered the shop and I asked for M. Meziane. We waited and waited. And when he finally came in from the back I was shaking with nerves. I greeted him and said:

Je suis artiste du California. This est pour vous.

I handed him my phone to read the message I had written.

Monsieur Meziane Ahmed,

En Novembre, apres l'attaque, j'ai entendu une entrevue avec vous sur la National Public Radio en Amerique. 

Mon coeur se brisa pour Paris --et le monde--que ce qui est arrive. Mais tes paroles ont ete une source d'inspiration pour moi. J'ai donc cree cette piece d'art.

Il est la peinture et le collage et vos mots de l'interview sont sur la page ainsi.

En amitie,

Susie Stonefield Miller


Dear Mr. Meziane Ahmed,

In November, after the attack, I heard an interview with you on National Public Radio in America.

My heart broke for Paris--and the world--that this happened. But your words were inspiring to me. So I created this piece of art.

It is paint and collage and your words from the interview are on the page as well.

In friendship...

And then I handed him the piece. 

He looked at it. He smiled. He put his hand to his heart and then gave me a big hug. 

The rest is history, as they say. I mean, there were more hugs and tears held back and more smiles. There were attempts to communicate through hand movements and broken English and French. There were also delicious tiny cups of espresso. He showed us where the bullets had hit in the shop. And then more hugs.

I'm not sure what it meant to him that I arrived on his doorstep with this offering. But I know that as I left the shop that day I felt tremendously light. 

I had connected with a stranger, I had shared from my hands and heart my art and vision, and I had done my little part to heal the world.


Note: Before we left Boulangerie Lina, M. Meziane gave us a flyer with his photo on it and went into great detail (in French) about something. We weren't sure what it was, but when we got back to our flat that night we found an email from him inviting us to the launch (that night!) of his crowdfunding campaign to help repair, remodel and begin to serve Moroccan food and breakfast at his bakery. It also included this message: "Thank you very much for the beautiful picture you painted for me!" We have donated, and hope that you will too! Wouldn't it be amazing if this became a viral thing?! Here's the link.