On Notre Dame, and endings

It was a scene distinctly reminiscent of its fictional twin. I watched a group of people sing “Ave Maria” as they watched, teary-eyed, Notre Dame cathedral engulfed in flames. And I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Who’s in Whoville, singing on Christmas morning despite a lack of presents, food for a feast and other holiday trimmings.

Cynics may scoff at the analogy, but it’s a convenient one. And convenient analogies are usually so for a reason.

We are not our things.

Not even our most beautiful symbols and temples.

Occasionally, our spirits remind us of this.

My eyes welled as I watched the spire fall, as I heard the beautiful voices—somber and somehow hopeful at the same time—as I realized the craftsmanship of centuries was being destroyed as the world watched.

Here one minute and gone the next, as my mother used to say. Hard to fathom.

This week alone, I’ve talked to several people who are experiencing their own version of a raging fire. One was in one moment living a normal weekday and the next at the hospital in emergency surgery. Another said goodbye to a significant other, for good. A third lost the job that supports his family.

When the universe decides to burn your metaphorical house down, it can do so in seconds. It can be so ugly, so quick. But I am encouraged by what I see this week. These people are somehow singing “Ave Maria” as they watch. As they live what most of us pray not to.

Not everyone is so resilient. I can think of people I’ve known who sit in their own version of a burning house but refuse to leave. We all put work into our metaphorical masterpieces—sometimes it’s a marriage, sometimes a child, sometimes a career. Some of us respond with grace when life burns our masterpiece to the ground. We do what the helpers at Notre Dame did—we triage. We rescue all the precious artifacts we can, but we also realize the inevitability of the situation. Our precious bits have lost their former home; our life will not exist as we once knew it.

Others of us sit within the burning building and refuse to leave. This generally does not change the ending of our story. The fire destroys everything at some point. Sometimes even us and those we love. And we lose the chance to take the precious bits from it because we refuse to acknowledge the reality of the destruction.

I know because I’ve been both people.

I prefer to sing. I know that now. I prefer to take what I can from the wreckage, to treasure what’s salvageable but to realize it’s time to build a new masterpiece. And that may take a lifetime. And that is ok.

I prefer to celebrate the beauty of what was, thanking it for its service, while acknowledging the sadness of watching something I’ve so loved disappear. A marriage. A person I thought I knew. A lifestyle and career that no longer fit who I’ve become.

You have your own versions of these things. Your own Notre Dame.

I hope you sing. When faced with the choice—acceptance or denial, hope or bitterness—I hope the notes trip off your tongue.

It sure beats sitting in a burning building.


38 Comments Add yours

  1. It can be hard to let go of something that is precious, but as you say, it’s better to live with acceptance and appreciate what was given to us for a while.

    1. candidkay says:

      And for me–and I’m sure others–it goes beyond hard to gut-wrenching. I used to wish I was wired differently, but I’ve come to see it brings its blessings:).

  2. So beautifully put! I wish someone close to me was able to sing while Norte Dame was burning, instead of continually running into the burning building trying to pull people out who refuse to leave.

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah, yes:). That’s a conundrum. It’s hard enough to get our own act together, let alone have to rally the troops.

  3. Karen Lang says:

    A beautiful reflection and reminder Kristine. We cannot take anything with us and so the practice of letting go freely is why we are here. What is more important than love and the gift of life? 💕✨

    1. candidkay says:

      Exactly. We can’t take anything with us. And yet, I’m so grateful for the beauty we’ve created to enjoy while we are here. And I was sad to see something of such timeless beauty suffer.

  4. A wise post. I remember feeding little birds gathered in front of the Cathedral on our visit there in 2011. Funny how those tiny living things stayed with me more than the monument itself.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I love that you got that experience. I did not make it there before this happened, which is a true regret.

      1. Paris still has plenty of gorgeousness that is captivating.

  5. pirootb says:

    A touching post. Even a raging fire can’t take away the memories we made. Everytime I had to face the fire in my own life, I tried to remember that. This fire can take away an important person from my life, but can it take away the beautiful time we had together? As I saw the images of burning Notre Dam, I was thinking that so many people all over the world have made so many memories at this place, and those memories stay intact, this all powerful fire can’t touch them. Yes we rebuild after the fire, but we should remind ourselves that an important part remained unharmed.

    1. candidkay says:

      Very well put. They can’t take away what has become a part of us, right?

      1. pirootb says:

        Exactly. And that’s the most important component that connects us to what we lost.

  6. Lovely analogy and reminders Kristine. May we respond to life’s challenges with courage, compassion, and song!

    1. candidkay says:

      It certainly beats the alternative, right? 🙂

      1. Yes, and I’ve been both people too.

  7. egjacobycomcastnet says:

    I love your thought “I prefer to sing”. I am going to make this my mantra!

    1. candidkay says:

      You and I both, sista’!

  8. mydangblog says:

    Beautifully put. And Notre Dame will be rebuilt, as it has been in the past, just as we rebuild ourselves–a bit of the old, a bit of the new, but with the same spirit, and we will endure:-)

    1. candidkay says:

      Right–I believe that also. And generations from now, they will marvel at the “ancient” structure.

  9. McLaren Sue says:

    Am having difficulty accessing “Like” and “Comments” on your page. When I click on either, I am “thrown” into the essay itself with no other options. Maybe my slightly senile brain just isn’t “with the program”. Even copying and pasting the suggested URL doesn’t work. I want to continue to receive your posts: they are so good, so timely, and so smart. Thank you for sharing!

    Sue McLaren


    1. candidkay says:

      Hmm. I don’t seem to have other readers experiencing the same thing so it may be your browser cache. If you can eliminate your temp files and clear your cache, I bet the problem goes away. I hope it does! I appreciate you being here and your insightful comments :-).

  10. Lifetime Chicago says:

    Great analogy…thanks for sharing!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks for visiting!

  11. markbialczak says:

    Thanks for sharing your take on this important life lesson, Kay. Indeed.

    1. candidkay says:

      And thanks for reading/commenting, Mark! I appreciate it!

  12. Roy McCarthy says:

    Good analogy and observation. How much better to wave someone or something goodbye and be thankful for what they’ve given, rather than cling and mourn. I refuse to be sad when someone dies having lived a full life. I’d rather celebrate a rock star’s music (for example) rather than waste time wishing for another few years of their existence.

    I have decidedly mixed feelings about the millions pledged to rebuild Notre Dame. Pledge towards the homeless, sick and other disadvantaged.

    1. candidkay says:

      I agree with you on the full life. No one comes for eternity. And I think most people who applied for lives would prefer that we celebrate them than sit in sad silence.

  13. Well written Kristine. It is difficult when our hearts are so joined to something…but each tear that we create is building something else. Understanding, belief, hope, faith…and that inner love and happiness that we always seek is there waiting for us all ❤

  14. bone&silver says:

    That is a truly lovely insight and reflection of the tragedy, thank you. I love Notre Dame, have visited many times…

    1. candidkay says:

      I wish I could say the same. Was on my bucket list.

  15. fritzdenis says:

    Very insightful. I love the idea that it’s proper to both mourn, salvage and look to the future. That’s a truly human response to tragedy and difficulty…. I know of another way of reacting: running away from the burnt building, rebuilding elsewhere and pretending that the first building never existed. Your way is much better.

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah, yes. That’s a way I’ve not tried but doesn’t sound like a true way through—just a way out.

  16. Su Leslie says:

    Beautifully said. I think this is the most meaningful response to the Notre Dame tragedy that I’ve read.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you—kind words. ❤️

  17. Dale says:

    Perfection, Kristine.
    I feel exactly as you do. Which, of course, you know.

    1. candidkay says:

      I just know we’d be triaging in unison, saving every beautiful bit we could . . . and I think we’ve both done that in our “real life.” Hugs to you.

      1. Dale says:

        Yes, we would
        Hugs right back!
        We strong women recognize each other.

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