The recent tragic fire at Notre-Dame de Paris elicited an unexpected response to a public event.
As the news of the fire began to flood the media outlets, everyone seemed to be transfixed by the emerging images of flames engulfing the iconic building. For a few moments, it seemed to be an incredible thing to behold; the destruction of a treasure that so many of us had grown to love. My first thoughts were of a terrorist attack, something that has become a much too familiar sight on public media. The flames seemed to be so intense, it seemed likely that there would be total destruction.
What began to emerge on the social media outlets that generally offer cynical and irreverent responses to events, was an almost universal outpouring of horror over the spectacle of the church in flames. People began to share their memories of having visited the cathedral or identify a special feature that they admired, such as the rose windows that were constructed in the Middle Ages.
We were transfixed by the developing reports of the imminent collapse of the roof and the spire. As details emerged of the actual destruction, some of us were further struck with the extent of the irreparable nature of the loss, such as the roof timbers which were hewn from countless trees that were felled in the 13th century. Surely, the final image that we would see would be the rubble of the building heaped intro a dark mass of stone and charred wood.
Of course, we know now that the worst case scenario was avoided, and that the efforts to control the fire were amazingly successful. The church stands and much of its beauty and ancient art remain, and awaits the hands of the restorers.
The immediate offers of private funds for restoration were exceedingly generous and continued to amass. How did this happen, I wondered? What was it about this place that touched so many sentiments in so many of us? Was it the loss of something that brought so much beauty to the world? Was it the recognition that beauty created by human hands deserves to be protected and admired forever? Was it the vision of a world and a place lessened by the absence of such magnificence?
Perhaps it was all of these things, to a greater or lesser extent. So for a few moments, we came together emotionally, united in our concern for our impending loss. A common bond created through a common concern that overcame our disparate experiences in life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could somehow find other issues that had the potential to unite us in a similar common bond?
Of course, in the light of day, and in a less emotional state, we find ourselves looking at the events with a more critical eye. Some have begun to ask important questions about the willingness of some of the wealthiest among us to offer huge sums for the restoration while ignoring the social needs within our community. I’m not dismissing these questions as irrelevant, but I’m reluctant to dismiss the outpouring of support as being superficial.
I’m convinced that our world, riddled as it is with deeply felt differences among people, is immediately elevated and edified when we stop to do something together from which we all benefit. In this instance, it was a building of great importance to many of us, something that represents our belief in the value of beauty in our lives and the creative energy that can produce that beauty. Perhaps we can choose to find other things within our world that we can all agree to preserve or improve or create for all of us to enjoy. It’s well worth the effort.