Why Notre Dame’s flames move hearts
At 6:30 p.m. on April 15 in Paris, flames began to erupt from the roof of the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral. To the shock and horror of viewers at the site and around the world, the fire raged from the attic and into the interior of the structure, taking with it structures and artifacts that had stood for centuries.
In response to the catastrophe, French president Emmanuel Macron said of the French connection to the structure that, “Notre Dame is our history, it’s our literature, it’s our imagery. It’s the place where we live our greatest moments, from wars to pandemics to liberations.”
However, it was not just the French people who felt a sense of tragedy as parts of the Gothic cathedral’s structure succumbed to the flames.
Former CNN producer and correspondent Frida Ghitis wrote that “Notre Dame ablaze reminded us that we all share this world; that human history means everyone’s past,” a sentiment echoed in tweets from other world leaders.
It is perhaps in moments of abject loss and tragedy is when global society is best able to come together; grief and comfort often create an environment that fosters unity. In the same way that people were able to sing together under the flames of Notre Dame, they were able to plant flags in the ashes of Ground Zero, rebuild iconic cities such as Dresden under the Marshall plan, and numerous other examples.
While Macron told his people that, “This history is ours. And it burns. It burns and I know the sadness so many of our fellow French feel,” the sadness expands beyond France’s borders. It moves the hearts of all who share in the story of humanity it conveys, of love, worship, war, loss, and strength.
According to UNESCO, “What makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional is its universal application.” The sites that carry this designation are representative as physical manifestations of this spirit that binds humanity together.
The concept of history of humanity being deeply tied to these physical structures laced with stories reveals a commonality that stretches beyond nationalities and ethnicities.
As the world comes together to support Paris in its mourning and rebuilding of one of its precious symbols, it serves as an opportunity to observe the phenomenon that occurs in global tragedy, unity emerging out of despair.