Notre Dame, Our Lady, is burning. We are burning with her. The cultural symbol of devotion, freedom, and fortitude goes up in a flash before our eyes. This treasure has endured revolutions, invasion, vandalism, and two world wars. It has been the heartbeat of Paris for over eight hundred years. She captures our love and imagination.
Losing this historic structure compels us to feel, to see, and to know the importance of monuments as place holders, not just of history, but of energy. Not only is it the central place of worship for the French Catholic Church, but it houses a living history, Medieval and Gothic art and architecture, the Crown of Thorns among other important Christian relics, and iconic sculptures among Jean D’Arc.
These things hold precious energy for our civilization.
It is not just the Parisians who are suffering the loss, but the world over. We feel a collective pain when something that has endured so many catastrophic events goes down in smoke in a matter of hours. We assume it will stand forever.
This cathedral has been a feature in literature from Proust to Hugo to Freud. She steals our hearts in a way no other cathedrals have. Because she survived both World Wars, it remains as a unique and living tribute to history. The protecting gargoyles have been photographed since photography was invented.
This past December, walking in and around this monumental construction, I had the renewed feeling of deja vu that struck me so profoundly that I could not deny the remembrance of being there in other ages. Scenes and feelings flashed before me. I could feel the building itself and what it has collected over hundreds of years I sensed like never before the container of the secrets, the confessions, the clandestine meetings, the prayers, and the spirit of life itself.
Little did I know this would be the last time I would walk through these vaulted hallways.
The awe was with me the first time I stood in her somber presence almost 30 years ago and I have returned countless times for support both when I lived in Paris and when i returned to visit.
She has held my prayers and tears, my music, my voice, and my pain not just in this lifetime, but in many. I have wandered the corridors in contemplation and felt my own deepest fear there.
I had the honor of playing an entire solo piano recital plus accompanied several vocal recitals on Sunday afternoons in this cathedral. I have sung hymns in French because I could. I have knelt before Jean d’Arc in solidarity, I have wished in front of the portal of St. Anne and I have lit countless candles under Mary for my family, both then, and just this past December 2018.
During my seven year residence in Paris, I was faced with the life changing decision to keep an unexpected child, having only known his father for six weeks.
This decision was pivotal and needless to say, difficult at the time. I spent many days in prayer, listening to the voice of God, learning to listen to my own conscience, and receiving reassurance in magnanimous proportions. These meditations often occurred in the belly of Notre Dame, Our Lady, who held me in those fearful times.
My faith and trust in something much greater than myself was born in these meditations.
Seeds were planted for a lifetime of devotion. My past was woven into my present and into my future. The cathedral became personal for me.
Bathed in the golden light of October awaiting my son’s arrival, I stood on the rooftop of Hotel Dieu gazing at my trusted ally. There she loomed large from the best vantage point in Paris, again reassuring me that all is well. I saw her buttresses as ribs of a great beast, the spire topped her almighty crown, her bell towers were a sacred portal into which everyone walked, knowingly or not. Her majestic presence emanated strength and inspiration.
There were complications at the end of my pregnancy and so I spent a week in Hotel Dieu before the big event, daily climbing six floors of stairs to help induce labor, so the medical professionals didn’t have to. Notre Dame was always there front and center in the rooftop view reminding me of my faith and providing silent reassurance that all would be well.
The repairs may not even be finished by the end of my son’s lifetime. We will wait patiently. We will continue to revere the incredible history she holds. We will never let go of our memories.
Notre Dame will live in our hearts always.