There are a few times in your life when something major happens – devastating or wonderful, and you remember that day forever. Those moments that you will “remember where you were when you heard the news.”
That day occurred yesterday.
The Notre Dame in Paris, one of the most iconic buildings in the world, burned.
Thousands of Parisians and tourists gathered as the flames engulfed the building, tearing down the spire, and striking down the roof.
Meanwhile, I watched, open-mouthed at the coverage online.
While I'm not there, I felt compelled to share about it on my Instagram and Twitter. Like many people, Paris holds an incredibly dear place in my heart. Tears welled up in my eyes as I watched the beautiful, historic, and iconic monument crumble and turn to ash. I had chills hearing the 13th century “rose” stained-glass window perished in the flames.
I was joined by millions of others who watched the news, but a few people told me to move on, it was just a building after all.
And while I am glad no one was hurt, I know that this place means so much to so many people.
It's a place of worship, even pilgrimage. It's an iconic landmark, drawing 13 million people every year. It's a monument that has inspired art, worship, and is a big part of French culture. Not only is the Notre Dame an important symbol for the city of Paris, it's incredibly important place for Catholics. Ironically, the burning happens to be during Holy Week, when the Notre Dame unveils some of their coveted relics throughout Christian history. Such as a fragment from the wood of the cross, the one believed to be used in Jesus' crucifixion.
It's also the setting of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo's famous novel. The facade is decorated with intricate stone sculptures and gargoyles that seem to spring out of the building. The 850 year-old building took 182 years to build and various kings were crowned inside the cathedral throughout the centuries.
Everyone has a small place for Paris in their heart. It's a city that inspires and helps you envision your dream. I know it did for me. I remember going to Paris for the first time and deciding then and there that I needed to move abroad in order to capture more of the magic of Europe. Paris did that for me.
After I moved abroad, the first ever solo trip I took was to Paris in the spring. Right around this time, two years ago, I hopped on a train and headed to Paris to see the blooms.
One morning, I woke up just before sunrise to get ready for the day. Mind you, I never do this. I know it's often that photographers and Instagrammers get up early to beat the crowds, but I like to get as much sleep as possible since I usually have a full day ahead of exploring. But that day was different.
Before the sun rose I jumped in a cab and asked to be dropped off at the Notre Dame.
It was impossibly quiet. There I was, tripod in my backpack, camera around my neck, just staring up at the magnificence of the Notre Dame. It was a crisp, spring day with a few puffy clouds in the sky.
I felt like I was in heaven.
Thinking I must have beaten the crowds, I hurried to take some photos in front of the monument. But even after 20 minutes it was still nearly silent, just a few passersby on their way to work.
After my photos I headed inside, thrilled there was no line to get in like there had been every other time. Inside, in the dim light of the morning, the stone building beckons you to walk through its corridors. Looking up at the stained glass is a religious experience as the light pierces through to illuminate the images.
Though it's a huge structure, I easily found myself in a tucked away corner marveling at the beautiful stained glass.
The “Rose” window of the Notre Dame took my breath away with it's intricate detail and bright, bold colors.
I remember feeling completely elated. Not only had I moved abroad liked I wished so many years ago, I was taking a trip on my own, to one of my favorite cities, with a landmark nearly all to myself. I didn't know it at the time, but that was one of the most important trips for me. It taught me that I have to take risks.
After my time inside the cathedral, I headed out in the city. I stopped by the blooms behind the church and strolled the street with the black iron fence, feeling like I could take on the world.
The Notre Dame has been a place for so much for inspiration, healing, hope, prayer, and artistic expression. I can remember the first time I gazed up the stone buttresses, spending time there with my Mom, turning 30 here, and taking a solo trip to appreciate it's glory.
The Notre Dame burning made me realize this: life is fleeting. Even though we build structures to last 1,000s of years, they won't always be there. Travel helps us to appreciate the things we have now and have the memories that will last for our lifetime. Catastrophes happen, so it's important to live life to the fullest and appreciate what's in front of us, right now.
If you've ever needed a reason to travel or see something or check off your bucket list, let this be it. Nothing lasts forever so we must take the opportunity now.
My thoughts are with Paris and I hope the Notre Dame will be rebuilt in all it's glory one day.