As we walked up to the old doors of Notre Dame Cathedral, I realized we made it just a few minutes too late to wander and explore the shadowy but serene and vast interior. Paris shimmered with the cerulean blue of a crystal-clear summer sky that day. I was disappointed Mathilda, my daughter, would not get to explore the interior that day, but knew she would be back soon enough.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame had withstood so many crises and changes throughout her over 800 year history, she would surely be unchanged when we each returned. We reconnoitred around her massive but graceful shape, then went back to our airbnb near Sacre Coeur. The next day we left Paris for London to continue our journey of exploration and community connection as we celebrated my daughter’s graduation.
Yesterday, the images of the great cathedral on fire provoked a visceral reaction in me. The cathedral that, thankfully still stands, even with much damage, was begun in March 1163. Almost 100 years later, the last part of the original building was finished. Glass artisans, stone cutters, sculptors, painters, seamstresses, and many more lovingly crafted this symbol of France slowly and deliberately, as an offering to the Christian God – a testament to their skill and faith in God and country.
Yesterday’s accidental fire hurt every French citizen, as well as every lover of art and beauty, around the world. After so much wanton destruction of beautiful things and people in the last few years, this seemed especially painful. I checked in with Mathilda today – when she studied in Paris, she did get to visit Notre Dame again (and more than once), and so experienced firsthand the peace and awe one feels when inside. But I feel regret that I didn’t make the time to experience that when she and I were together.
But the sense of grief lessened as I remembered – this cathedral has suffered depredations, indignities, remodeling, and more during its storied past – not only used as a Catholic church, but also as a temple to reason among other uses. It was ransacked more than once. And its original builders demolished then reused materials from an existing religious structure during its creation. The lesson learned? The cathedral is, like France – and indeed the entire world – both everlasting and eternally evolving. Another lesson – travel and explore every day you are able – whether in your own backyard, or clear across the globe. That building, tree, sky, person – may not be there tomorrow. If you need help figuring out how or where to travel, contact us – we help people make meaningful connections and truly, fully experience the world.
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