What the Fire at Notre Dame Taught Me

Notre Dame BurnsLike many people, I have an affinity for the renowned Middle Ages cathedral whose roof caught fire two days ago.
I misspent my youth on its steps on the weekends while living in Paris, listening to steel drum bands or drinking coffee at a nearby cafe while shopping for books at Shakespeare & Co which lies in its shadow on the Left Bank.
I visited it later, with my husband, as newlyweds, when the world was filled with hope and wonder and I was carefree. I still marvel at the photos of the statutes ascending the spire I took with a new, telescopic lens I got for Christmas.

Earlier this week, I watched in horror as the roof and spire burned and bit my nails when I read reports during the nine-hour blaze from a Chicken Little Cleric who said the entire structure might burn to the ground.

Meanwhile, 500 firefighters fought the inferno. To them, it wasn’t a fire that occurs once every 850 years. It was a fire they’d trained their whole fire-fighting lives to put out.

As part of their training, they knew there would be massive destruction. And they had a plan. Save the people, save the art, save the altar, save what furniture you can, then focus on the structure, in that order. They knew what can be rebuilt and what can’t.

One brave priest, who evidently was no stranger to church fires, went in to save the artwork, including the coveted crown of thorns Christ wore. Others joined in, forming a human chain to salvage humanity’s creations, which were then deposited at the Louvre a few blocks away.

Now, a few days later, as I digest this story, I have to ask myself, how many times have I heard the interior voice of my own Chicken Little Cleric decrying how this is the end? That there’s no coming back from this kind of destruction?

Meanwhile, undaunted, my own soulful firefighters continue to extinguish whatever blaze rages inside, threatening massive destruction. But unknown to my cleric, they have a plan. They know what can be rebuilt and what can’t. They know what relics to save and which ones to let go.

There’s a story circulating the Internet that oak trees were planted at Versailles 160 years ago in anticipation of a Notre Dame rebuild effort, whether caused by fire or aging or rot. A picture shows, that true or not, those trees line a path into the regal country estate, ready if called upon to be used as supports for a new roof and new spire.

And I think to myself, how much I’ve focused on the rockiness of the path, its uphill nature and the difficulty of the terrain, while ignoring the oaks that line it, ready to offer support for whatever massive destruction has occurred or may occur in the future.

For today at least, I’ve sent my cleric to vespers, asking that voice to pray for a connection to those diligent, dutiful fire fighters within. And in that voice’s absence, I’ll spend time marvelling at those oaks along my path that I seem to have missed, focusing for too long on my footfall.

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “What the Fire at Notre Dame Taught Me

  1. Love love love love love this. Thank you.

  2. What an inspiring and poignant takeaway from what looks like wholly a tragedy. Such a great reminder to triage what remains rather than wringing your hands and giving up. Love and light to you!!

  3. nancyspoint says:

    Hi Liz,
    This is such beautiful and inspiring writing, Liz. And the connection you write about is such an astute reminder for us all. Thank you.

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