On Monday, April 15th I watched Notre Dame burn and felt a hollow feeling sink into my chest. This 850-year-old monument has stood the test of time surviving the plague, the French Revolutions, and two World Wars. In my mind, it was supposed to last forever. Watching the flames engulf the roof it astonished me how sad I was about a building burning. It doesn’t belong to me, it’s not even located in my country and yet I wanted to cry. I was heartbroken.
Reflecting on this event, I am struggling to believe that it even happened. How could this historic building get partially destroyed by a fire? It survived so much and was brought to its knees by something so simple. I’m finding a good way to think about it is as a good reminder of how fragile everything is, and how nothing lasts forever. I, like many other people, thought that if something had lasted this long it was bound to last forever. I could not fathom such an iconic part of the Paris skyline missing. I visited Paris on a school trip in 2016 as part of a greater European tour. As part of our adventure, we were given a tour of the Cathedral. I remember looking up at the ceiling in awe of the sheer magnitude of the building. To me, it is amazing that people eight hundred plus years ago built a building of such size and complexity, and it’s amazing that it still exists today.
Often, we think that the horrible things don’t happen to us, those horrible things happen to other people not to me. We were reminded that no one is invulnerable when this building, which has literally shaped parts of our history, started to burn. Now, great buildings similar to the Notre Dame have burned before; St Paul’s Cathedral in London was destroyed in a fire in 1666, The Globe Theatre burned down in 1613, the Library of Alexandria in 48 BCE. Historic buildings have been burned to the ground before and they will be burned to the ground again, so why is this so sad. Probably because this building mattered. It mattered to me, and it mattered to the world.
That’s part of what makes this loss so horrible; every person feels it on some level. Even if you are not Christian or even remotely religious you cannot disregard the importance that the Notre Dame has been for humanity. It is an 850-year-old testament to human will, part of the greater story that is our history. So much of what makes up humanity can be found in that building; perseverance, dedication, a will to make important things happen. We lost some of that on Monday. We lost part of our story.