It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel: The Notre Dame, a historic landmark that has stood on the edge of a cultural lexicon for 850 years, seemingly immune to catastrophe, has caught on fire.
Over the decade I’ve spent devoted to traveling and seeing the world, I have been to enough places to know if it’s a place I will ever return to partake in again. What I rarely know is when I will be back, and how I, or the place, may change in the meantime.
In some cases, it’s a mere matter of months before I return. Sometimes supposed months turn into years, and in some cases, several lifetimes will have passed before I am able to come back. And in that time, I often find that not only I may have become a different person, but it may also have become a different place.
Time rarely ever stands still despite our plans.
Tragic as it is, the Notre Dame Cathedral, like so many other landmarks that have encountered misfortunes, is a sobering reminder that there is a rarely a moment that is best savored as the present. Everything is so fragile, isn’t it?
No matter how many times that you proclaim “Mongolia will always be there!”
It is moments like these that reminds me of other things that were lost. Two years ago, Malta’s Azure Window, the country’s most celebrated rock arch collapsed, after massive winds eventually rocked and reduced the formation to literally pebbles at the sea floor.
In the last five years, almost all of Syria’s UNESCO’s heritage sites, including the ancient city of Palmyra were completely lost. Treasures that withstood multiple millennia, only to be destroyed in the brief, fractional presence of looters and hooligans.
There are things that can not be replaced. Maybe what the Notre Dame’s roof is telling us is to not be careless with our time, and with what we love and value.
I don’t proclaim to to be personally and intimately tied to the Notre Dame Cathedral; I wasn’t into The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Quasimodo seemed creepy to me). I am not Catholic. I am not from Paris, nor am I from France. It plays no part in my identity politics, other than as a tourist.
But I do remember visiting the Notre Dame one quiet afternoon. I remember stepping into the cathedral, and feeling my heart lift ever so softly. It is these fleeting moments, however we find it, whether it’s a place, song or a person, that keep us connected to the world at large.
This Victor Hugo quote will probably be oft repeated in the countless stories that will be written over the next coming days: Love is like a tree: it grows by itself, roots itself deeply in our being and continues to flourish over a heart in ruin.
Love is a strange thing. How simply being there can affect us in strange ways. But like it does for so many other things, it will also quite literally, lift the Notre Dame out of the ashes.
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