Like many people around the world, on Monday I was riveted to the sight of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris burning.
Everyone in the newsroom was glued to the video showing the flames eat into the historic building.
I’ve never been to Notre Dame de Paris. Only two of my reporters have. And yet none of us could look away from the sight of the fire that threatened to completely obliterate this French landmark, feelings of shock and loss choking our throats.
Some news stories are like that. It’s interesting to consider why this is. It doesn’t matter where the event is taking place, there is something in it that has a universal call. The destruction of world monuments falls into this category. Whether we’ve personally seen them or not, somehow there is a kind of comfort in knowing they are there. Someday, you would like to go and visit them, and they will be there for you when you do. Their names and images have become part of the unconscious foundation of our lives.
They have endured for hundreds of years, seen the turnover of governments, blizzards, floods and more. They mark something special and beautiful in human achievement. Their soaring rooves, stained glass, painted frescos and laboriously carved wood are a dream brought to life. They are a testament to the idea of the power of the imagination. Humans create the ugliness of wars and weapons and poverty, but we can also create something better, something wonderful.
For some it is a religious symbol, but for most I think it is the historical and architectural context that is so meaningful.
I can only imagine what it must be like for the residents of Paris who are used to seeing it on their skyline.
Notre Dame will be rebuilt, of course, but it will never be the same again. In time to come, this fire will be talked about by tour guides as another thread in the fabric of the cathedral’s long history. But there is no denying that something has been lost.
As a side note, for those wanting to chip in for the rebuilding effort, the Better Business Bureau is warning people to wait a little while for an official charitable fund to be set up. They warn that they are expecting a slew of scams to start proliferating across social media to try to separate well-meaning people who were touched by the fire from their money. Make sure that if you want to donate, you’re doing it to a properly registered organization that will be accountable for the use of your contribution.