Notre Dame Cathedral’s flying buttresses, rose windows and center spire spoke of humanity’s capacity for soaring artistry and deep religious faith for more than 800 years. The world watched in shock and grief as fire shattered it on Monday.
Passover, beginning tonight, and Easter Sunday are reminders that out of disasters can come hope.
Notre Dame has stood through revolutions, natural disasters and world wars. It is hard to wrap the brain around the idea that a mundane accident—maybe a space heater left on, faulty modern wiring or a dropped cigarette—could knock it down.
That seems so hard to comprehend that surely something should have been done. That seemed to be the only response U.S. President Donald Trump could muster. Instead of speaking for the American people, he tweeted suggestions for putting out the fire, like in the movies.
There was no chance this fire could have been extinguished before it consumed much of the cathedral. There was no chance of stamping out the Yellowstone Fire, the Castle Rock Fire the Camp Fire or any other that gets ahead. There is only defense.
The Paris firefighters, some of the best in the world, saved much of the cathedral from collapse and risked their lives to save priceless art and religious relics, part of our human heritage.
The French deserve praise and support, not questions. At least not now.
Massed in the light of the flames, without organization or amplification, Parisians responded to their helplessness and human weakness in the face of natural forces as the peasants of the 13th century might have. They prayed and they sang.
French President Macron has pledged to rebuild Notre Dame. Ironically, more has been pledged to this effort than could be raised in efforts before the fire to refurbish the increasingly fragile structure.
The past cannot be regained. The skills of the 13th-century artisans have been lost. Replicating Notre Dame’s glory is the best that can and should be done.
This is Holy Week, leading to the most important day in the Christian faith, Easter. This is the first night of Passover, one of the most important festivals in Judaism. Both mark the belief that sorrow and loss are not the end.
Notre Dame is still standing and still speaking, conveying the message of humanity’s capacity for renewal and hope to the world.