I watched with great sadness the videos of Notre Dame burning on Monday, and a part of me crumbled inside when the spire fell.
My first time visiting the cathedral, the sidewalks in Paris were icy and a stiff wind blew off the Seine, freezing my ears in the cold. I was twenty-two years old, in Paris for a month as part of a study abroad program in college. As a French major, I hoped to erase my Americanism and hadn’t brought clothes warm enough for the unusually cold weather: no knit cap, no winter coat.
I reinvented myself in France, peeling away the identifying elements of American tourists: white sneakers (not that I even had any), too much friendliness, loud talking, no French ability. I would not be the Ugly American.
Much of my adult identity catapulted from ten days of solo travel around France before the study program began. Forced to navigate the language, the culture, and the destinations by myself, I was obligated to interact and engage with strangers. I travelled with people I met in youth hostels. I ate meals alone. There was not much money to rely on, and I didn’t yet have a credit card. I budgeted my experiences with the precision of a surgeon, and grew stronger in the process.
I attended Mass at Notre Dame de Paris despite the fact that I was not Catholic. I didn’t understand the rituals. I didn’t understand the Priest, only the words, Notre père, qui est au ciel. Our father, who art in heaven.
I slipped on ice on my way there. A large dark spot on my tights showed where I had fallen. Stupid girl. Isn’t youth most prevalent when we try to be grown up? I fell a lot in college. Up the stairs. In front of crowds. On ice. In Paris.
Twenty-five years later, the falling spire, burning.
Crowds. Paris. Pain.
Loss is everywhere we turn. We lose identity. We lose grace. We lose family, friends, money, health, faith, trust.
Passion is the invisible repair. Passion to love despite the injury. Passion that dares difference. Passion to invite strangers into our world and commune with shared dignity. Passion to rebuild everything that has been lost and broken, and passion to witness an ending with belief in hope.