Glib talk in the wake of the immensely sorrowful Notre Dame inferno

No, I didn't see any Muslims dancing over it — which, in my anger as the horror sank in, was the first thing I looked for.

But there were plenty of people who didn't quite get what the massive losses from the Notre Dame fire, which made so many of us actually cry, was really about.

The fire devoured one of the world's great landmarks, a rare thing of beauty in a world of ugly modern art, an amazing work of human hands from an era not many years beyond the Dark Ages, a storied place that survived the horrors of World War II and even worse, the French Revolution, a place so beautiful and full of excellence that it had to have been motivated by spiritual strength and passion to build it, and a place so artistically and spiritually powerful that it spun off other works of art — art that begat more art — such as Victor Hugo's literary masterpieces.  From this far distance, I think of my friends in the Beverly Hills parish I used to know, whose parish in Paris was Notre Dame, who described how peaceful and spiritually comforting its atmosphere was.  And unlike most of Europe, its pews were full.  And I wistfully mourned that now that I would never see it, since I have never been to Paris beyond a train stop at the gare.  And I asked God how it could happen, what was his message, it felt like a message.  It also felt like being in New York on 9/11, which I was.  All of these thoughts were in the huge stream of emotions as the story we all hoped was a false story when we first saw it or heard of it turned out to be a real one.

The mayor of Toronto had a beautiful simple tweet:

First, the press coverage utterly dismissing that it was terrorism, or that someone set the fire deliberately.  For a place like Notre Dame to go 850 years without such a fire, and now in this era of terrorism and mysterious fires (think of Brazil's massive inferno that took down its National Museum; think of the Taliban's deliberate destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas; think of the horrific ISIS destruction of the ancient ruins of Palmyra) is frankly hard to believe.  And France's deeply troubled political scene, with yellow vest riots and protests not letting up and people of all political stripes alienated and bitter at the establishment and spiritually bereft, suggests that something bad could have happened even from that direction.  Yet news report after news report said there was no chance of terrorism or arson.  Now the Parisian cops say they are moving to investigate the whole matter as a crime.  The glib coverage saying terrorism was ruled out — and before anyone knew what was happening — was rather rich.

Second, there was a lot of criticism of President Trump for saying maybe the French firefighters should drop water on the building, something they could not do out of fear of collapsing the whole fragile structure, but this was a polite bid to help, given that many Americans, especially here out west, see massive fires in wilderness areas responded to with water dumps, and so it was natural to wonder.  No, the one that gets me is the quick and dismissive 'we will rebuild.'  President Obama's tweet patronizingly saying it is "in our nature to mourn when we see history lost — but it’s also in our nature to rebuild for tomorrow, as strong as we can" is pretty irritating.  Yes, it's natural for us to mourn, and hey, it's also natural to glibly spout that the whole thing will be rebuilt "as strong as we can."  Ugh.  And notice he distilled it down to just history, which was idiotic — Europe is loaded with history.  I am sure something will be rebuilt, the heart of Paris cannot remain a ruin, but this is glib.  Will it be the same, or will the Parisians remake it into some sort of modern 'interpretation,' the way they did with the Louvre and that glass pyramid thing? Worse still, maybe it can't be rebuilt: The techniques used by the Medieval builders are ... still a mystery to today's engineers. One can only hope they can approximate it even if they cannot resolve the mystery -- and that what they do restores the glory of the edifice. Anything else will be sad. And the time it will take is sad, too. We all know how long it took to rebuild the World Trade Center. We can only hope that Paris makes no such dreary dragging out of it as New York did, but again, they don't entirely know what they are going to have to do. All told, 'we will rebuild' is easier said than done. And to shout it now is wearying.

Third, there were those on Twitter who said it was just stuff. That real spirituality didn't require such stuff. That the people in the church were more important. That our God was more important. Protestants were most likely to point this out, and of course, in actual worship, it is true. But it was an odious comparison to make this about what is more imporant. And it certainly dismissed too glibly the sorrow of the loss. Were our tears somehow out of place then because of that, or were they just jerks? The cathedral was not just about spirituality, though that was the heart of it — it was about history. It was about art. It was about excellence. It was about the work of human hands giving glory to God. You know, those very people who 'are the church.' And their work gave us a connection to them. To dismiss it as just stuff is disgusting. 

In any case, in any great disaster, people talk out of turn. One can only hope that such nonsense does not become a 'narrative.'

Image credit: Twitter screen grab