When you stop and think about it, April 15 has become more and more of a cursed day in history as time has gone on.
Each year, this day commemorates the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 and the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. And now, April 15 will also be remembered for another tragedy that rocked our world — Paris’ own Notre Dame Cathedral catching on fire.
This terrible event has currently been deemed accidental and related to the renovations that have been taking place in the 856-year-old cathedral.
This great loss for the French people has touched individuals all across the globe, affecting me, my family and many others in our community. Though I am grateful that much of the cathedral was saved and many of the artworks and historical pieces inside are OK, I believe we all still feel that something truly special was lost when Notre Dame was engulfed in flames.
I first found out about Notre Dame’s predicament when I walked off of the school bus and into my home on that recent rainy Monday. As I watched the spire fall off of the grand cathedral in a fiery inferno on the news, I couldn’t help but think about how much I had always wanted to visit and go inside of Notre Dame someday. It was one of those things that you didn’t want to believe or see happening, but — at the same time — you simply couldn’t turn away until you knew if Notre Dame would still be standing.
As I followed this news story the next few days and kept up with reports of the brave, selfless firefighters, I suddenly thought of the people I knew who have actually been inside of Notre Dame herself, and how much harder this tragedy must be for them.
My dad, Curtis Cummings, has been a big "European enthusiast" for all of my life and has actually established a company (along with his friend and co-worker) that takes tour groups on trips across Europe in the summer. Notre Dame has been a big attraction on his tours — and an even bigger part of him and his appreciation for European landmarks.
Remembering the first time he visited Notre Dame, my dad recalled being alone in Paris later in the evening and how he walked to the island where the great cathedral stands. He walked through the main doors and instantly took note of the large open space that surrounded him, as well as how beautiful the light looked spilling into the building through the stained glass windows above.
As he walked further into Notre Dame, the organ began to play, the sound of it filling the entire church not just with sound but also with feeling. My dad went on to tell me how surreal and overwhelming it felt to actually be there.
That entire experience gave my dad the impression that it is moments and feelings like these that help European churches — even ones as famous and as frequently visited as Notre Dame — maintain more of their dignity than other tourist sites.
• Story continues below video
After I knew that the structure and two towers of Notre Dame were saved, I also thought of my AP European History teacher at Fremont High School, Tiffany Shulz, and what this event must mean to her. Shulz also leads tour groups of high school students across Europe during spring breaks and summer vacations. You would think that after teaching European history all school year, she might be tired of Europe. But no, she remains enthusiastic about each moment she spends on the continent and spreads her excitement to her students.
Once Shulz found out about the fire, she immediately put up a beautiful poster of Notre Dame Cathedral in her classroom.
She said, “I think it is a part of my healing. Honoring her (Notre Dame’s) history and beauty is one way I can give back and keep her relevant and important to the next generation.”
As a kid, the first real exposure I had to this incredible church was through Disney’s adaptation of Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame." I will always remember Quasimodo proclaiming “Sanctuary!” as he stood on the cathedral’s main frontal wall. It was my favorite part of the movie because it never failed to give me the perception of Notre Dame being this place of safety, refuge and tolerance of all people.
I believe that it is its beauty and feeling of acceptance that has garnered Notre Dame a special place in France as well as in the hearts of the world.
Watching that film as I was growing up, and then watching a fire unmercifully burn this beautiful cathedral (that took almost 200 years to construct), I was filled with sadness. It feels like we have lost an old friend, or a close relative, that none of us knew how much we needed until something unfortunate happened to them. After hearing experiences from both my dad and my teacher, I feel we should strive to make more of an effort to visit these types of places before it's too late.
Though I will never be able to say that I visited the original Notre Dame Cathedral, I look forward to seeing how this generation decides to restore it, and I am grateful for the new message that it provides to all of us.
To me, Tiffany Shulz expresses Notre Dame’s future best: “She will still be here with us as a sign of perseverance. Perhaps she will remind us that our imperfections never destroy our own true beauty.”