Yesterday was a horrible day—the day that 850 years of history and art and architecture went up in flames, as Notre Dame burned.
When you live in a place as old and beautiful as Paris, these landmarks quietly integrate themselves into your life almost without you noticing. Every time I ran along the Seine, it was in the shadow of Notre Dame. Every trip to the boulangerie took me near her graceful flying buttresses. Every day Colin commuted to work, he walked across a bridge where he could see both the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame at the same time. We bought flowers for our window boxes and our first-ever Christmas tree at the flower market on one side of Notre Dame. We bought hot wine and saucisson at the Christmas market on the other side of Notre Dame. We saw her every day, in every season, with every person who came to visit us. Every quarter-hour of every day, her bells rang out across the city, a charmingly analog way to tell time. Hearing those bells on our first day in Paris, through the fog of a red-eye jet-lagged nap, was the moment I fell in love with Paris.
As President Macron said in his address last night, Notre Dame was the epicenter not just of Paris, but of our lives.
Chère Notre Dame, merci pour tout. Home was seeing your spire rise over the Seine, like a good friend welcoming us back at the end of the day.
What will Paris be without Notre Dame’s spire rising up over it all? What will Paris be without her bells tolling four times an hour, from sun-up to sun-down every day? My heart hurts to think of all the people who won’t get to visit and experience her quiet but imposing magic.
Living in Europe also taught me that the arc of history is long, much longer than we realize here in the U.S. Notre Dame has survived for nearly a millennium, and she has been damaged and rebuilt many, many times before. She will be rebuilt again.
But the fire also revealed how fragile the world is and how much care we must take to preserve the things we love. Here are articles by two of my favorite writers that make that point well:
- On the Roof of Notre-Dame, Before It Burned (Lauren Collins, New Yorker)
- We Were the Caretakers of Notre Dame. We Failed. (Pamela Druckerman, New York Times)
Did we fail in our responsibility to care for Notre Dame, as we have been failing in our responsibility to care for other gentle and beautiful things, like our planet and the people living on it? How can we do better? Please let us do better.
For more of my stories about Notre Dame, check out: