While preparing my video on symbols and their ability to link things together, a curious episode from my past came to mind – a strange encounter which I wondered about for many years.
I was a student at the time. There was a strike that day, a major strike with mass demonstrations. I had never cared for the climate of confrontation of these demonstrations. As I watched the students facing the riot control forces, I saw one of the guards lift his helmet and wipe his face. He was very young – as young as the students.
Feeling uncomfortable and very disturbed by all the violence surrounding me, I reflected on the absurdity of this conflict. I felt as though the air had been permeated by a mood of arrogation. The atmosphere was explosive – all the darker instincts seeming to emerge as suddenly as a jack-in-box.
Clinging to my schoolbag, (I must say that my schoolbag was the equivalent of the cell phone today, but much heavier. My whole life was in that schoolbag – I think if I could, I would have slept with it!) I walked the streets vigilantly, trying to hear what was going on. I was quite puzzled and wondering about my own choices, my values, and the direction I wanted to go in my life. This world was not my world but… where was my world?
As I was immersed in my thoughts, in the middle of a street I was crossing I met a man carrying a camera and big reporter’s bag on his shoulders. He had to be a journalist covering the event. In his early forties, he looked like one of the extreme left friends that my father used to hang out with in May of ’68. We crossed paths and, as I was passing him, I turned to look at him and – without knowing why – I stopped, dropped my schoolbag and just stared at him, open-mouthed. Somewhat taken aback, the man went on his way. I picked up my briefcase and forgot the event.
A few weeks later, another strike, and the same scene was repeated. In another street I was crossing, at the middle of the crosswalk, I met the same man again. My schoolbag fell from my hands, I stopped and gawked at him – speechless. Obviously he remembered the first scene, but then we went our way without speaking.
For the next three years, every three or four months, and always in the same way – with both of us heading in opposite directions – I would meet this man. I finally managed not to drop my briefcase and gawk every time we would meet! We would just pass each other, glancing furtively at one another, curious but distant, never saying a word or even cracking a smile. Two strangers, crossing paths, without knowing why.
Some of these meetings were quite unusual. One day I was in the South of France and was heading home by train. The train was crowded and I rushed to find a seat for fear of having to make the trip standing. A man was coming the other way, obviously as concerned as I was to find a seat. It was a matter of survival, I had to find a place before he did! All my attention was focused on getting a seat. I had to have it at all costs!
Miraculously, I opened the door of a compartment and there were two places! I sat down and a man sat opposite me. It was him! We were face-to-face in a confined space for several hours. All the other passengers were chatting, discussing the weather. I cannot remember why, but again there was a collective unease. He and I simply sat, glancing at each other from time to time without any warmth. And, despite the strangeness and the enigmatic character of this new encounter that could have sparked a conversation, we were silent, serious and imperturbable, suspended in another time and space. It is as if we were characters in a story who had received some imperial command to never speak to one another. It was a wordless story that made sense in this silence and the mysterious space to which we both belonged – which seemed to methodically arrange these meetings for some goal that we would each understand separately.
We got off the train and headed in opposite directions; he to the left and I to the right.
I ended up leaving my college town and moved to another city with a clearer idea of my destiny. The first day I arrived in this new city, I decided to walk around to get my bearings. After an hour of wandering around discovering my new space, I grew tired and suddenly began worrying about my future. I felt attracted to a small street into which I turned. There, it looked like a car had broken down and three men were bustling around trying to fix it. The first two greeted me with a nod and smiled at me. As for the third, he finally lifted his head from the hood of the car to look at me. Him again!
Here I was in a completely different city, in an area that was off the beaten track, once again asking myself all these existential questions… and here he pops up again out of nowhere! Standing there, I was really amazed and challenged and also visibly surprised – just as I had been all the other times. We gazed at each other – without a word or even a smile. It was a deep look, an authentic one reflecting at the same time the mysterious secret that connected us and the acceptance of this mystery. And visibly determined, both of us, not to break the almost sacred nature of this meeting.
I continued on my way and behind me I heard his friends ask him about what just happened – without any response on his part. And I smiled, deeply grateful that he had accepted the injunction of silence that seemed to bind us. I could not hear his voice – and for nothing in the world would I have wanted to – as if breaking the supernatural character of these scheduled appointments would be a sacrilege.
The last meeting took place a few months later. We were both walking in a plaza, according to the same protocol, he going one way and I in the other. For the first time, we were far enough apart, each at one end of this large plaza, but clearly we recognized each other at the same time. When we crossed paths, still some distance apart, we stopped for a few seconds, exchanged one last look… a goodbye. I knew immediately that this would be our last meeting. And so it was.
I did not turn back and I’m sure he didn’t either. And I felt lighter, freer, I was on the right path and all possibilities seemed open to me.
That night I had a dream – one of those rare but recurring dreams that have always marked a positive change in my life. And in the following months, my life did indeed take a different course, as if I had been able to make a choice – a choice that was a milestone in my journey towards adulthood.
What inner progression allowed this progress?
I cannot speak for him, but in my case, I was able to connect some episodes of my life story. Thanks to this man, I came to understand the conflict going on within me, causing me move in two different directions. He was sent my way to point out my ambivalences and my hesitations – the source of my suffering – hence the fact that we always passed each other going in opposite directions. These chance encounters would continue until I had reached maturity and an unconscious decision took place within me, allowing me to clearly see my choices in life. Hence a final meeting, simple and liberating …
Why him? I have some ideas, but the most important element was the evolution of our meetings. Externally, our differences were visible and reflected two opposing realities: we were not of the same world. We could easily have been enemies. But, gradually, something else formed in stead, mystery and astonishment replaced judgment and prejudice. And I truly believe that we both learned a tolerance – the acceptance of two opposing destinies linked in a meeting of two souls – which has changed and liberated us.