Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Our Lady of Paris

Notre Dame

Like thousands of others this week I watched in horror as Notre Dame, the grand lady of Paris, was engulfed in an inferno that I thought surely would destroy the entire building. I was so glad I had seen it in person, because it looked as if no one would ever get to experience that beautiful place again. Now we know that the building will survive and be restored, and millions of dollars have been pledged to see that done. Some of the art has been lost, but the vast majority of the structure and its contents have been saved. It’s a miracle, and a testament to the bravery and skill of the firefighters who worked so hard to protect and recover as much as they could.

So now that we know that the worst didn’t happen, I started wondering why we care so much if a building, any building, burns down? What makes us stand in silent shock as we watch an inanimate object go up in flames? Is it just that we as humans value beauty and history, and grieve when these things are destroyed?

I think that for many people walking into a structure that has stood for hundreds of years is a profound experience. It certainly is for me. I’ve had the good fortune to stand in the Colosseum in Rome, the Tower of London, and on the Great Wall of China, among many other ancient sites in the world. I am always moved by the weight of the history that imbues these places, and I feel both insignificant to the life of that place and impossibly lucky to be there.

From stone beehive huts dotted all over Ireland to grand palaces like Versailles, or the many staggeringly beautiful places of worship – St. Peter’s in Rome, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul – we venerate these ancient monuments to our shared story as humans on planet Earth. These are the places we look to to give our lives context. They are the touchstones that we can all point to and say “that has been here before me and will be here after I’m gone.” There’s a solace in that permanence. We need that somehow.

So to watch the seeming destruction of an important focal point of our common humanity disturbs our equilibrium. It makes us feel unmoored, adrift in time.

It’s also an unwanted reminder that all this, eventually, must pass – that we must also one day pass away. We saw our mortality in those flames, and it was unnerving.

But even so, my hope is that we will use this event to move forward with more compassion for each other, that this reminder of the impermanence of life serves to soften our hearts towards our fellow “travelers to the grave” as Charles Dickens put it. I don’t think that’s a morbid thought, but a hopeful one – an encouragement to live fully, now, today, that we make the most of who we are and what we have and those we love.



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