On April 15, 2019, a fire broke out beneath the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Reflecting upon this incident, I posted the following to my personal facebook page. I have decided to share it here as well. The photo collage above is based on Maximilien Luce’s painting, “The Quai Saint-Michel and Notre-Dame” (1901). The collage incorporates portraits of some of the people I have had the pleasure of meeting over the last decade. Every one I have photographed has contributed to my body of work and will forever be a part of my own, personal Notre Dame.
Notre Dame Cathedral is lost. They can rebuild an exact likeness, but it will never be the same. Our world is forever changed by this event.
This is by far the most common response I have seen and, to an extent, I share this sentiment. I understand the mourning and share in the deep sense of loss. But why? It is a building. Yes, an ancient structure that personifies the magnificent history that is France, but it is just a building.
Or is it?
Consider this: Most of you woke up yesterday and Notre Dame never crossed your mind until you heard the news. And, then, it consumed your thoughts. Now what? How do we “make things right” again?
Let me stress once more that it is just a building. Perhaps it has inspired you in some way, but it is only a structure of wood and stone. No matter how beautifully it was put together, no matter how deeply it touched your soul, it is still only a building. Had it not burned yesterday, would you even be considering it’s story today? For most of us, it would be little more than a faint echo in our mind, having very, very little impact on our daily life.
Unfortunately, for many of us, we have had a similar experience in our own lives that consumed us like yesterday’s fire. Instead of a building, it was a person. It was someone with whom we shared a connection for years and then something happened. That relationship went up in flames.
For some of us, it is even more eerie. One moment, you weren’t even on that person’s mind. You were a passing thought on the average day. Then, a small thing happened that turned into a raging conflagration. How could this happen? How can we ever get back to where we were before? This cannot be rebuilt. This cannot be forgiven.
…and then, just like that, you became little more than a faint echo in their mind, having very, very little impact on their daily life. One might say, things returned to normal for them.
If someone matters to you – REALLY matters – then those destructive flames are more easily avoided. If they truly mean something to you, after the flames, you do more than just walk away and wonder how things will ever be the same again. You certainly don’t ignore that the person exists. You find a way to fix it. You rush into the fire and salvage what you can before it is too late.
For those of you who have been hurt in this way, I offer this closing thought:
If you ever mattered to them before, you would matter to them now. The conflagration and chaos of that moment where you felt the relationship fell completely apart and was lost was not about your failings. It was about someone realizing that there was something there worth having and they let it go.
You are beautiful. You are magnificent. You are unique. You are someone’s Notre Dame. They took your existence for granted, cried when you burned, and now they wonder what could have been.
It is up to you to rebuild. Do not rebuild to satisfy the one who destroyed you. Do it for yourself. Be beautiful. Be magnificent. Be unique. Be your own cathedral.