On the day after the September 11th terrorist attacks, the French newspaper Le Monde published the now-famous editorial “Nous Somme Tous Americains” (“We Are All Americans”). The writer condemned the attacks in strong terms and movingly expressed solidarity with the American people.
As I received news today about the inferno blazing at another pair of twin towers — this time in Paris — my heart again weighed heavily (although, understandably, in a different way — most gratefully for the fact that no human life was affected this time).
In speaking with friends and family, all have expressed that most other cares seem terribly trivial at the moment. Whether you’ve visited in person the cathedral church of Notre-Dame de Paris or not, nearly no American’s cultural, historical or spiritual conscience has been untouched by Notre Dame — perhaps not even understanding exactly why.
Located on an island in the Seine, all Paris water arteries lead to her. No paved artery in the city does not connect to her. If nothing else, she is geographically the heart of Paris. Historically and spiritually, she is the same.
She’s the original Paris fashionista whose style never goes out.
And, yes, the gargoyles, Quasimodo and Napoleon crowning himself emperor there connect us to Notre Dame.
Yet she’s more.
It seems that Notre Dame epitomizes the best of humanity. No. I’m wrong. She epitomizes humanity. Along with glorious events and art and music of Notre Dame, tragic events have also been associated with her existence. But when we think of Our Lady of Paris, perhaps we are mostly, of all things, comforted as we sense her triumphant, perpetual existence through centuries of turmoil and change.
She has remained beautiful through revolutions, desecrations, (other) fires, occupations and attacks, and she reminds us that for each of those there is also the victory, liberation, redemption and the opportunity to preserve and build a continuously more glorious version of the past — all the while bearing no shame for her scars.
Her stunning, symmetrical towers assure us as they balance sturdy groundedness with inspiring heavenliness. While the 2001 twin towners largely symbolized consummate capitalism, these twin towers, perhaps, commend to us the great French virtue of égalité.2 comments on this story
At their bases, the towers welcome us thrice. Not only is she Our Lady, she is eager and ready to receive, shelter and protect. Have her doors not welcomed millions of us? How many of us have taken a load off as we’ve been sheltered and rested in her cool shadows, only then to find ourselves suddenly comforted — even spiritually fed — by hallowed choir hymns, stirring organ strains and peering, warm light through the loving, grand eye of her rose window? She has invited us to explore each carefully prepared chamber as we process the aisles, and we’ve been indulged to curiously explore the vistas to which she’s privy — for having made her home for us so early on in Paris.
Having taught us and borne us so freely, frequently and so long, "Nous sommes tous Français."