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.