This Post Has Nothing To Do With Writing
I have to remark—how can I not remark—on what a strange time this has been. I’m Catholic (I know, I know, but still…) and Holy Week had only just begun when the palms of Sunday gave way to the flames of Notre-Dame de Paris on Monday. I was struck in particular by one of the images, which I’ve attached here, of the cathedral's gargoyles silhouetted against the fire. Gargoyles were meant to be protectors, but on this night they were helpless to protect.
I lived in Paris when I was nine and ten years old, and I often went to Mass at the cathedral. It was not my favorite church—that would be the jewel-box that is Sainte-Chapelle—but it was surely the most iconic. Who hasn’t looked at photographs from the forties and fifties—Doisneau comes to mind—that feature the cathedral in the background? Who hasn’t associated it with the history of Paris, just as the Eiffel Tower speaks of its modern culture?
It’s not the first time N-D de Paris has been in danger, and it has somehow, almost miraculously, survived. It will survive this, too. But it feels so much like a metaphor for everything that is dark and destructive in the world today. We are losing things that are the backbone, the mainstay, the very fabric of who we are. Hitler asked if Paris was burning; it may yet be a relevant question.
I come back to Holy Week. Already money has been contributed, plans are being made to return the cathedral to its former beauty. After pain comes healing; after death comes life. The church will be rebuilt, its community of faith renewed.
But how many more fires can we sustain? How much more darkness? The United States under the current administration is leading the charge, but it’s not alone: all over the world, moves are being made to hurt the innocent, to repress freedom, to draw us into darkness.
I’m a historian, and history has always given me comfort. No matter how bad things are, I can always find a time when they were worse, and somehow the world has always managed to recover from the bad times. What I forgot, of course, was the experience itself, of seeing the world one loves slipping into the Dark Ages, as we are seeing now in the 21st century.
So, yeah, I cried as I watched Notre-Dame de Paris burn. I have a feeling it’s not the last time I’ll feel the way I felt on Monday. And Holy Week has only just begun….