By Richard Bleil
France suffered a tragedy of a different type today. In an age where it feels as if there are tragedies every other day, the Notre Dame Cathedral suffered a massive fire.
It opened in 1345, well over 650 years ago. It’s an interesting thing when great historical items reach a certain age. Personally, I start to think of them as having a life of their own. I was fortunate to have owned two classic clocks, the youngest of which is a century old, the other at least twenty years older than that. I think of the history that my clocks have seen, and letting them go broke my heart, but I was little more than a temporary guardian of them. With no children of my own, I could not guarantee they would continue beyond my life, so I wanted to set them free, to somebody that would take care of them after I am gone.
This history seen by the Cathedral of Notre Dame is amazing. Starting with its own construction, the cathedral is itself history. The Gothic style of the time was to build ever taller cathedrals, with impressive inner ceilings. The problem is, narrow tall buildings often could not stand on their own, giving way to collapse under their own weight and built in torque. Careful inspection of the structure shows a series of support columns on either side of the great hall, attached with arches designed to counteract that force, pushing the walls inwards to prevent them from falling out.
There is a lesson in today’s loss. See, the loss doesn’t just belong to France. It is also a loss to me. A loss because never will have I have the opportunity to see this magnificent building with my own eyes.
There are a lot of comments, saying, and memes about visiting those that we can while they’re alive. The same goes for destinations. Over six hundred and fifty years, the last fifty of which spanned my life as well, the Cathedral of Notre Dame is now gone. If they will salvage some of it, even if any of it remains standing today, never will I be allowed inside again, and if they rebuild, try as they might, it’s still not the original.
At the height of its terrorist regime, Daesh (better known as ISIS) occupied large swaths of land in the middle east, and made it a point to destroy as many cultural and religious structures, including Hatra archeological sites in Iraq, synagogues, churches, works of art, giant statues of Buddha, and the list goes on. Many of these structures date back to ancient Rome or beyond. There is no point to this destruction, nothing was gained. Regardless of ones religion, these structures were beautiful and of great cultural significance. The loss of these items killed part of our history, our heritage. Like the Cathedral at Notre Dame, the chance to visit them is just gone. Whether they are rebuilt or not, the original awe and mystery cannot be repeated with bulldozers and massive helicopters no matter how close they may be to the original, built by hand.
In America, it wasn’t that long ago that there was an idiot running around America trying to destroy artifacts. A famous and very old national Oak tree was poisoned, the liberty bell was attacked, and even a stick of dynamite was thrown down onto Plymoth Rock. Nothing is guaranteed to be here tomorrow. Nothing.
My first passport was in 1988. I was in graduate school, and had two advisers. We lost one unexpectedly to a heart attack. He had been scheduled to visit Germany for a seminar, and somehow I had come to know this, and thought perhaps I should go. Sadly, I never did.
Regularly, I renew my passport, but, much to my shame, I have never used it. I’ve been out of the country, technically, twice, once to Canada to Niagra Falls, and once to the Caribbean on a cruise, but I never really traveled. As I write this blog, I am stuck in a motel in Wyoming. I was on my way to California for a job interview, and decided that it was a good opportunity to take a mini-vacation. The two principle pathways to and from the interview split the Gand Canyon, and put me past a friend of mine. My heart was in the right place; I wanted to see this portion of the country, which I had not yet seen.
The interview is the result of a massive job search, having lost my previous. My funds have been severely hit (the monetary reason for giving up my beloved clocks). I have almost nothing left of the possessions I have collected through the years. Although I’ve not yet had to declare bankruptcy, a friend of mine has. She passed on to me the comment made to her regarding her case, “it’s all just stuff.”
We look at our stuff and elevate it beyond where it should be. We look at our gaming systems, leather furniture, expensive cookware, cool toys, cars, trucks, houses and see them as the fruits of our labors. But we can lose them. Take it from me, it’s all just so much stuff that can be taken from us. But memories, that’s a different story. My friend in Scotland and her husband go on trips constantly. They don’t have much stuff, but they are far richer than I ever expect to be, and the sum total of their wealth can never be taken from them.
From this point forward, before I buy more stuff, I’m going to ask myself, is there another Notre Dame Cathedral that would make me richer if I were to visit.