Notre Dame and its confessionals

Dear President Trump,

Have you ever visited Notre Dame, walked around the outside of it and the inside it? If you did, did you allow yourself even a tiny glimmer of awe? Did the magnificence of the soaring space take your breath away? Did the details in the craftsmanship and the clever cant of a gargoyle’s face amuse or intrigue you? Did the ancientness slow you down and cause you to wonder at the engineering and the long, long commitment to the effort? Did you see the wall of confessionals that created a hallway of sorts between the main space of the nave and the wall of the cathedral, those ornate boxes lined up ready to receive whatever people felt the need to share with their God through an ordained intermediary who would proffer a (theoretically) suitable penance for whatever their transgression(s) might have been?

Laura and I visited Paris in 1994 and while we both found the Cluny museum and the adjacent remains of the Roman baths the most compelling aspect of our visit, we were still quite taken by Notre Dame. I remember feeling exceptionally small, plain, and temporary when I was there – the space so grand and non-human in scale (except for the confessionals), the artifacts and architectural details so fine and fancy, and the whole thing having existed long, long before I was born and seeming to promise, through its sheer persistence and solidity, to go on existing long, long after I die.

Laura said there were conspiracy theories (of the right-wing variety, which probably could go without saying) springing up immediately on Twitter as people cast about for someone to blame for the tragedy. It couldn’t possibly have happened as the result of an accident, an unfortunate unintentional catastrophic rip in the normal course of things. There must be someone to blame. Right? This is your bread and butter, isn’t it? Nothing whips up a crowd better than an easy target or a good scapegoat upon which to pin blame. You’re a pro at that. Of course there will be investigations, and if your counterparts in France have their way, investigations of the investigation.

I thought your “condolence” Tweet was in especially poor taste – couldn’t you simply express sadness, dismay, sympathy or something along those lines without referencing 9/11? It was as though you were setting up a handy juxtaposition between the cathedral fire and 9/11, perhaps to exploit should it turn out that one of the workers using one of the machines that might have thrown “the” spark is an immigrant from a Muslim majority country. I hope this doesn’t happen, but I would not, for a minute, put it past you to try to milk some anti-Muslim outrage from it.

Finally, because I wasn’t 100% positive I was remembering the confessionals correctly, I did a quick search for images of them. Instead of finding the old, dark wood versions, I found images of glass confessionals, which I thought odd until I learned they were to eliminate sexual solicitation and assault by priests. I’m not sure what to do with this heavy, awful information and what it means about what went on inside the cathedral alongside the heavy, awful loss of much of the cathedral itself, but it suggests that far more than just the building needs to be rebuilt.

May we be safe from fires and from human predators.
May we be willing to do the work of gutting what needs to be gutted.
May we remain open to healthy renewals.
May we be peace.

Tracy Simpson

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