It is the morning after we lost so much of what made the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris a symbolic presence in our lives. Twelve hours later, I struggle with emotions and why this inanimate building feels like a significant loss to my life and to the world. Initially upon hearing a colleague say to me “Notre Dame is on fire”, my first question was “Montreal or Paris?” We quickly loaded up a live news feed and sure enough – there was Notre Dame in Paris on fire. Immediately upon seeing the large flames, I knew that the destruction would be catastrophic. I couldn’t stop watching the live news throughout my lunch hour.
After lunch, I went forward with my job – to teach French at an elementary school. I couldn’t bring myself to explain this loss to my students as I couldn’t yet grasp what I would say. I also couldn’t explain why I felt so strongly saddened by this loss. Was it because I am a French teacher and it represents a culture I feel strongly connected to? Was it because since I was a student of Grade 8, I fell in love with French language, culture, and history? Or was it because Notre Dame was one of the very first attractions my spouse and I saw on our first Europe excursion in 2016? Was I feeling the emotions of losing a piece of iconic history?
Part of my brain process reminded myself – this is just a building but yet it is so much more. Notre Dame Cathedral was built in 1163 and has survived the French revolution, 2 world wars. It is a strong symbol of Catholicism and French identity. Its foundation stone was laid by Pope Alexander the third. It is a piece of architecture that is indescribable as one must be able to see it to fully understand its magnificence. The cathedral has been a joy of imaginations of those who enjoyed the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame which was also made into a children’s movie. Millions of visitors visit Notre Dame every year.
As someone who has seen Notre Dame inside and out, I find it a new challenge to express what it is that we lost. As I continue to teach about Notre Dame in my cultural units, it will be with a saddened heart knowing my students will never to get to see Notre Dame in the splendour that I once did. Yet, already within just a few hours of the tragic accident, we see the good of people – and already millions of dollars have been donated for the rebuild of Notre Dame Cathedral. I believe seeing how this building brought a world together yesterday to mourn in its loss of what it represented reminded me that humanity is still good and kind. In a world where we hear so much violence and sadness, in this one situation, we also saw beauty. Beauty of a world that understands what losing a piece of history means and that it is okay to feel emotions in that loss. So yes, Lady Notre Dame will live again one day and it will have new stories and new history. But the point of all of this is… she will survive. We will survive. When the world comes together in agreement instead of disagreement – how powerful we can be. The next step is taking that bit of commonality of a moment when we all felt the same heartbreak as we watched Notre Dame in flames, and remember to hold that value in how we live each day.
Personally, the accidental destruction of Notre Dame reminds me of my last year dealing with a serious injury. Both Lady Notre Dame and myself could not do anything to prevent what happened to us. Both of us have been through some rough patches in our past but always stayed standing. Yet, this one time, something so severe happened that was beyond our control and we both fell. Like myself, Notre Dame Cathedral will be rebuilt, but for us both, we will never be the same. We will have new outside and insides. We will perhaps be stronger. We will not forget what we lost but we will move forward to the future with new strength.
Hopefully, we can take this loss as a reminder to not take for granted the past, but also realize how much strength we have when we come together in a common place.