A Building Which is on Fire

Thoughts the morning after the Notre Dame fire

The great world city I know best after my hometown is Paris.  If New York stands a monument to commerce and the ever-changing, Paris stands the same to the eternal and the beautiful.

Notre Dame sits at the center of that city, the great metropolis rippling out in circles from those two small isles in the River Seine. This morning she still stands .

A building, an architect once said, is in a grudge match with gravity. Notre Dame has been grappling with that elemental force for nearly a millennium. There are older buildings and monuments on earth, some of which have been destroyed deliberately. Why the fuss about a building? And this one in particular?

It’s not as simple as passing the test of time. A church, we are told, isn’t a building, it’s the people who come together in it. It strikes me the same definition, more or less, holds true for a city. It isn’t the building that burned, it’s the humanity that built it and tended it and entered it and passed by it and admired it and took it for granted that
caught spark.

In that sense, it is humanity’s common property and our common loss.

I’ve spent days walking about Paris, crossing back and forth across the river, the cathedral a smiling presence in day time and a great brooding mystery late at night, always there. Like many, I’ve entered and been overwhelmed by the beauty. Like some, I have stood in the crypt and felt this was a holy place, where people had  long gathered  to commune with what is bigger than them.

Pulling us out of ourselves to recognize we cannot exist alone, that we must exist together is a task for the ages. That a mass of wood, stone and glass honed by the skilled hands of craftsmen–most of whom would not live to see the work completed–can have such an effect is a miracle.

Maybe, even, a bit of God within us.



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