The tragedy of Notre Dame. A lesson and a question.

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As an Irish Catholic, it broke my heart to see that magnificent spire collapse through the flames, and down to the floor so far below a few days ago. But you don’t have to be an Irish Catholic, or even religious, to feel the sadness and loss of an iconic symbol of peace, hope, and beauty destroyed before your eyes.

Notre Dame cathedral is approximately 850 years old, and took decades to build. It began as a vision, and an article of faith, a monument to hope and good, and a vision of something larger than just ourselves. And when it was completed, its beauty and intracy far surpassed any expectations. And Notre Dame was almost a living organism. Over the years it was modified and updated, changes made to improve the structure, and keep it relevant, without removing from the original beauty and function.

But 850 years is a long time. Everything gets old, even you and me. As Notre Dame aged, it required constant vigilance and care, both to protect it, as well as to keep it structurally sound. And while renovations and repairs were made when problems became obvious and dangerous, there were times when matters of economics, as well as political expediency, vigilance waned, and protective measures were ignored.

Our democracy is 243 years old. Like Notre Dame, it began as a shining vision. A vision of hope and freedom, A shining vision of something greater and more noble than ourselves, a higher purpose for mankind. And like Notre Dame, our democracy has been a living organism, updated and mostly improved over the years, making it hopefully safer and more functional, without detracting from the original beauty of the structure.

But like that other magnificent cathedral, the cathedral of democracy also required constant attention and care as it aged in order to keep it safe and functional. And like that other temple to a great and higher vision, as the years have gone by, economy, political expedience, and even avarice and corrosive agendas have led to a level of disrepair that weakened the structure.

On January 20th, 2017, a fire strted in the cathedral of democracy. Despite the best and heroic efforts of all of those who instinctively understood how important this symbol and structure is to the nation and the world, the conflagration has destructively blazed, largely unabated. It seems as if everything that is good and right in this world is going up in flames, right before our eyes, while we can do nothing except to watch helplessly.

Fortunately for France and the world, it has been determined that the basic structure of the great Notre Dame cathedral is structurally sound. French President Macron has already vowed that Notre Dame shall arise from the ashes within 5 years, and shall be every bit as magnificent as ever it was, and even safer and stronger than it was before. Billions of dollars are pouring in from around the world, and the nation is unified in its desire to restore its historic treasure.

But what is to become of the cathedral of our democracy? Like Notre Dame, it is currently little more than a smoldering hulk. I honestly believe that thanks mainly to the independence of the judiciary, as well as a mammoth volunteer fire brigade of concerned citizens, desperately passing buckets of water, that the foundational structure of our democracy is still strong. But can our treasured cathedral to that noble idea be rebuilt?

Unlike Notre Dame, we don’t need billions of dollars in donations to help to rebuild the cathedral of democracy. What we do need is to find that sense of common purpose, and the ational will to rebuild, to dedicate ourselves once again to the restoration and improvement of aconcept that is fundamental to our very national existence, the honest belief, the faith that there is something in this country that is worth more than just ourselves. Something that is worth fighting and sacrificing for. Do we still have the spine, that vaunted American spirit, to roll up our sleeves and get the job done. That is the question for the ages.

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16 Comments on "The tragedy of Notre Dame. A lesson and a question."

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anastasjoy
Member
Thank you for this. It has saddened me to see those who care about this and who recognize Trump and his minions for what they are being so weak-minded, sloppy, lazy and prone to passing fancies and infatuations. We need to ask ourselves some serious questions. Who is on our side? Who can be persuaded to be on our side? Who are we electing? What have they demonstrated to us in action they care about? We need to stop being swept away by pretty words and pretty faces. We need to stop dismissing candidates and elected officials because they do… Read more »
Alfred Higgins
Guest

Great essay, Murph. I would offer the counterpoint that the “fire” did not start on January 20, 2017. The arsonists actually started that fire smoldering in our cathedral of democracy with Richard Nixon. It only reached the five alarm conflagration with tRump. The Republicans have been relentlessly and insidiously setting the fire for decades, and the ease of their flip from “Never Trump” to a full throated endorsement of Trumpublicanism, with minimal opposition or dissent from within, fully illustrates this.

anastasjoy
Member

This is so true. The reason Trump was able to coast to victim primarily on demonizing immigrants is because the Republican Party had been softening up their base for this by doing it for decades. I recall 2005 when George Bush proposed long-overdue comprehensive immigration reform, and the right turned on him, screaming that he was secretly a Democrat and a closet liberal who wanted to let our country be overrun by these “hordes.” Trump merely capitalized on what the GOP was already doing.

Gettin'Too Old 4 this shit
Guest
Gettin'Too Old 4 this shit

murf thanks for that beautifully written piece. And all of it so true. It is so easy to despair these days and hard to keep going. You have inspired me today with your words, which are visible, and not just in the abstract. Thank you.

Inland Jim
Guest

It’s instructive, I think, that the fate of Notre Dame was decided by a piffling short circuit in an apparently lashed-up electric system.

jan4insight
Member

And yet, they managed to save so much: the bell towers, some of the rose windows, and much of the art and artefacts. And (afaik) no lives were, thankfully.

Inland Jim
Guest

Yes, interesting observation. But my point, somewhat inarticulately expressed, was that the trivial brought down the mighty.

jan4insight
Member

Great analogy – “a fire in the cathedral of democracy”