Going Home After Notre Dame

Kale Seedlings from the Greenhouse, Ready to Plant

I’m going home.

Yesterday’s fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, on Île de la Cité in Paris, brought that feeling from the darkness.

It is no longer my world.

When I visited Notre Dame I didn’t take photos. I brought a dozen rolls of Kodak film with me on a 12-week trip to Europe. They had been stolen in Calais. I reluctantly bought two to replace them and used them sparingly. Having studied Gothic architecture in art history class, I figured there were enough extant photographs to call up memories without any light I personally exposed to film. It turns out those memories, in light of the fire, remain prominent without external stimulation.

I remember standing below the large stained glass window, made in the 13th century, in awe of the accomplishment. In 1974 the cathedral wanted repairs and there was ongoing work being done. The flying buttresses looked fragile, the stone facings of the church well worn by pollution from acid rain and vehicle exhausts. I marveled that the stained glass survived two world wars and read the story of how they did. A religious service started and I left the cathedral.

News reports this morning say the stained glass window that made an impression on me 45 years ago was saved from the fire. The collapse of the roof and gutting by fire of the interior means any repairs will be costly. With the centuries-old struggle to keep the building up, it’s hard to see how a complete restoration would even be possible. In any case, the 13,000 trees cut to make the roof —an entire forest — can not be replaced after so many centuries.

We are used to landmarks being changed or disappearing. The World Trade Center in New York City and the Bamyan Buddhas in Afghanistan are two different types of examples in my lifetime. How uncaring people can be about preserving history. How fragile is what has been entrusted to us by the past.

When the world you’ve come to know changes, it is time to go home.

According to the Social Security Administration’s life expectancy calculator I can expect to live 17.4 more years. I’ll do my best to live a good life, however, the journey home has already begun.