Dave and I were watching "Six Feet Under" last night, as we've taken to doing in the evenings, when Dave -- looking at his phone -- called out, "Notre Dame is on fire!"
"What?!" I thought. "How is that even possible?" It seemed so patently absurd I'm embarrassed to say we didn't turn off our TV show. Isn't Notre Dame made of stone, after all? And isn't it one of humanity's most dearly held and most venerated creations? Surely it couldn't burn down.
I imagined a small fire, something in a broom closet somewhere, that would quickly be extinguished leading only to alarms and inconvenience for tourists.
Instead, as we've all seen, we got an event that seems apocalyptic. Although the building's outer walls and many of its artworks -- tucked into the shelter of the stone vaults -- appear to have been saved, the degree of damage is hard to fathom.
I wonder especially about the windows -- all that amazing stained glass, including the gigantic, 800-year-old rose windows. (That's one of them in the top photo, I believe the north-facing one.)
I've been to Notre Dame twice, in April 2000 and again in April 2013. I don't remember much from my first visit -- in fact I'm not sure I even went inside. I remember being enthralled by all the flying buttresses on the exterior -- having studied them in our Gothic architecture overview in my introduction to humanities course in college -- and of course the famous gargoyles.
I took these pictures of the interior when Dave and I visited on that second trip.
It's hard to believe that fire could virtually demolish something so irreplaceable -- a structure that stood for centuries through world wars and revolutions and coronations and periods of national and international celebration and mourning. But of course, fire doesn't care. Once it gets started, it just consumes.
I can't help feeling a sense of collective irresponsibility. How did we manage to let this happen? All of us, humanity, into whose hands our ancestors delivered the cathedral? It's like being entrusted with your great-grandmother's diamond ring and dropping it down the sink. Except worse.
It seems especially strange to think we just happened to be alive to witness this, considering all the generations of people who have come and gone since Notre Dame's construction, for whom the building stood solid and relatively unchanged. We've experienced something momentous in our history as a civilization -- as a species, even.
I guess it really is true that, as the Buddha observed, nothing is permanent.