It is the first day of Easter Week, late afternoon, when a drift of smoke comes out from under the north roof of the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral in beautiful Paris, France. Immediately the wail of sirens gives notice that first responders, security, police are alertly on duty ushering out any people inside; and evacuating nearby residences as part of their master crisis plan. Everyone is safe; only a first responder is injured.
Quickly the north roof streams a line of flames its full length, indicating the burn is taking place in the empty space above the vault, inside the exterior stone walls of the wing, and forecasting that the roof may be an impending collapse.
A hundred or so strollers pause to attend their curiosity about the smoke, which by now is curling upwards in a blend of white, orange, gray and black billows. Quickly the watching numbers grow, as word spreads that Notre Dame is on fire. How can it be that this ‘mother’ cathedral, renowned the world over for her artistic elegance, and her having withstood the hazards of two World Wars – how can it be that she can be in threat of destruction from fire?
All streets are empty of traffic. Bystanders collect in great numbers on a rise a safe distance away, transfixed by the sight of the unimaginable. A camera fixed in place on their backs, notes bodies unmoving, heads lined up with the now huge orange smudge of fire that brings the twin towers into dark silhouette. Could this all be just a painting…tranquilized bodies viewing a frightening scene off in the distance. No, it’s real. But onlookers appear hypnotized.
Shoulders touch, strangers join in silence. Are thoughts wrestling with the anguishing fear of fire, or simply how much will be spared? The Bell towers? The Spire? The Crown of Thorns reputedly worn by Christ as He hung on the cross? The many colored glass picture windows? The Rose Window? Paintings on the walls?
That horrifying solid orange blanket of fire now shoots a colored flame up the Spire and a red glow sets in relief the skeleton framework used by artisans as they have been repairing it. A low concerned murmur can be heard.
Then the collective silence is broken with a mournful wail from onlookers as the Spire leans, leans, then topples to its death. Within a few short moments the gentle strains of the Ave Maria ripples through the gathering, sung in perfect tones, tempo of a funeral dirge. Strangers are leaning; hearts are joined; souls are blended into heartspeak by this moment of music. Hymns follow in low, melodious union, as if led by some phantom director. Folksongs are sung as if there’s balm in song.
Hours have passed. The dusk is settling, making more brilliant the fewer final flames that are now diminishing into embers. The smaller gathering now disburses, each individual with his or her memories, some unspoken, others shared in low tones as if in respect for what has been lost.
The Crown was saved. As was the Main Bell, as were the twin towers; and the Rose Window may respond to repair. Artisans and craftsmen will once again spin their talents across her damaged parts in loving nurture, making Notre Dame Cathedral come back to life in all her timeless elegance.