Yesterday, while I was driving home, a friend texted me with a picture of Notre Dame burning. I didn’t get to read the text till I got home. I grabbed my phone, glanced at the text with the thought that I would jump out of the car and continue the conversation in the house, and then I stopped. What??? Notre Dame?? The famous church in Paris that has been around Forever?? How can it be burning? It’s kind of like someone saying a meteor landed on one of the Great Pyramids and destroyed it. My friend didn’t have many details and I started searching the Web for more information. I shared what I knew on my Facebook page and saw that all kinds of other people were sharing the same information. The whole world was in collective shock.
Why are we so upset about this? I’ve never been to France. I’m not Catholic. My friends who were sharing the information, most of them have never been to France either. We have no claim to this particular historical landmark, so why are we feeling it so strongly? I think because Notre Dame has, through the sheer tenacity of existing for almost a thousand years, become part of our human story. It’s part of our collective history as a human race. We can point back in time and say, Look! A bunch of us humans got together and with no power tools and no gas powered cranes and lifts, somehow we humans created this amazing piece of architecture! And we feel proud of ourselves. And amazed at our collective ancestors. It’s part of our human story.
I remember when I first learned about Notre Dame. I was in 7th grade. We had just moved back to Haiti after a long stint in the US. I was doing homeschool of sorts and my parents had ordered my curriculum from Calvert, a long-standing source of curriculum for missionary kids. I actually really liked the curriculum. It was different. I was learning World History instead of US history, I got to read a bunch of interesting literature, and I studied, of all things, a small book about Architecture. I remember it was a thin paperback book, red covers with very simple printing. Inside were the occasional black and white grainy photos of various famous architectural feats. I remember especially the chapter about Flying Buttresses. That term took my fancy and I can remember it even now, twenty-eight years later. There were some photos of Notre Dame and, after learning exactly how they made the flying buttresses, I was properly awestruck. Wow. How did they do that?? And just like that, Notre Dame became part of my identity. I now knew what it was, a little bit about how they built it, where it was located. From then on when someone mentioned going to Paris and seeing Notre Dame, I could nod my head wisely. Oh yes. How were the flying buttresses?
As I have been reading the news about Notre Dame, one other part of our human story has been coming through. People stepping forward to say, Let’s Rebuild. Here’s some money. We can do this. And this resonates deeply within us. I feel tears forming. Because, somehow, this is also who we are. We get knocked down, tragedy strikes, and then we get back up again. Rebuild. Try again. I believe it is part of that “Created in God’s image” thing. There is something strong in us, something that won’t give up. And that is also a part of the human story.
May Notre Dame live again.