Grieving for Notre Dame

I have yet to visit Paris. Naturally, when I included the French capital as one of my destinations on my three-week backpacking trip, I excitedly planned out all the sites I wanted to see while I was in the city. This included the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, drinking French wine by the Seine, and of course, seeing Notre Dame Cathedral. On April 15th while I was on my lunch break on my first day back at work, I learned that my trip to Notre Dame would not happen as I watched in horror on CBC News as the spire of Notre Dame collapsed into a sea of flames. My news feed for the last three days has been filled with people’s reactions to the 900-year-old structure and piece of European history that was lost in a matter of hours.

Among the mourners of Notre Dame online, however, are several individuals who are subverting the loss of the cathedral, and criticizing the efforts to restore the monument. I have seen tweets shared in Instagram stories, mentioning churches, mosques and synagogues around the world that have been burned down and vandalized as parts of various hate crimes, as well as criticizing wealthy individuals and organizations that are willing to fund the reconstruction of Notre Dame rather than contributing money to aid critical social issues, such as climate change and women’s rights initiatives.

While I recognize that there are more pressing issues to be dealt with than Notre Dame’s reconstruction, it is also important to consider the significance of the loss of the cathedral. There is no guarantee that any historical landmark or structure will last forever, and over the course of the last one hundred years, several important monuments have been lost to destruction; the World Trade Centre was lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, hundreds of temples across the Middle East have been lost at the hands of conflict in the last ten years, and several towns across Europe suffered mass destruction during bombings throughout the duration of World War II. Living in the post-WWII, post-9/11 world that we live in, I feel that there is an enhanced appreciation for landmarks that have endured the test of time, and an even higher appreciation for landmarks that are still just as beautiful now as they were when they were originally built. The burning of a building that has been standing for almost an entire millennium, a monumentally significant piece of world history, a center for tourism and a symbol of one of the most beautiful cities in the world makes the destruction of the building even more heartbreaking.

To bring the grief for Notre Dame a little bit closer to home, I asked my mom how she reacted to the fire. My mom spent her first year after high school living in France and made frequent trips to Paris. When I asked her how she felt after hearing the news about the fire at Notre Dame, she texted me this:

“I was really, really sad about it burning down. I spent Christmas Eve of 1984 there. My first time away from home at Christmas. I was inside for their Christmas high Mass. Very special…lots of incense. It was the biggest symbol of Paris to me, and I visited it four or five times. It’s so upsetting that it was almost destroyed.”

My mom’s story of how special Notre Dame is to her was just one of the hundreds of thousands who have special memories of the cathedral close to their hearts. This building has touched the lives of millions of individuals who have either made the journey to Paris to visit the iconic piece of Parisian heritage or the individuals who walked past the structure on a regular basis in their daily lives. While Notre Dame may not have lasted for an eternity, the significance of the building will continue to stand the test of time, and the millions of memories it fills within people around the world will continue to live on.