The Notre Dame Fire: Trying to Keep a Stoic Perspective

Hey all.

I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to post about the Notre Dame fire. I didn’t think I had anything of value to add, and I’m personally disgusted by people who want to turn catastrophic events into ways to essentially boost their own internet careers, but after mulling it over and following my rule to stay away from social media for at least 24 hours when a catastrophe, I learned a couple of things I think are worth sharing.

The general consensus is that the fire is not caused by arson, that it was an accident. Newsweek reported last month that churches all over France have been vandalized, so naturally, there are quite a few articles saying that we can’t just rule out arson for Notre Dame as well.

For now, I’m willing to believe it was just an accident, if new evidence comes up later that this was an attack, then of course I’ll believe that- but either way, it doesn’t really matter how it happened and spinning conspiracy theories won’t solve anything.

The Notre Dame Fire

I Wanted it to be Someone’s Fault

When I first heard of the fire, I was shocked, sad, and angry. The craziest thing was that I wanted the fire to have been caused by someone- that way it felt like there was someone I could direct all this anger at- especially if they meant to do it maliciously- I just wanted someone to blame.

Before you start calling me a psychopath, think about this for a second. How many times in the past couple of years did something bad happen and you wanted the person to be caught- and receive a just- or even more than just punishment? Most people seem to have that mindset in some form or another- from the death threats that went to the kid who accidentally started all those forest fires in Northern Oregon to Kathy Griffin calling for the names of the Covington Catholic kids a few months back- and the hundreds of people who responded in kind.

I’m not excusing this behavior, in fact I think it’s abhorrent how riled up people can get and target individual people making themselves more malicious and psychotic than the accused themselves.

It just scared me knowing how much in that moment- if that horrible tragedy happened- it better damn well have been caused by someone.

For this reason, I’m relieved that it’s just an accident- the last thing we need is to become animals and start descending on someone- and also frustratingly watching people try to defend their actions if they happened to belong to an ideology they agree with- causing even more division and chaos.

Despair… or Acceptance?

So, after that whirlwind of rage- other interesting thoughts occured.

Some background: I’ve always been a very emotional person, which attracted me to the philosophy of Stoicism- especially Marcus Aurelius, and I’m currently working an office job that causes a lot of anxiety for me- to alleviate this, I started keeping a daily journal where I write about my feelings, then I take a segment from Marcus Auerelius’ Meditations, analyze it, and write about how it pertains to my life.

So, after I had my initial shock and allowed my brain to go to that dark place, I realized: “There’s nothing I can do about it. Notre Dame is all the way across the world. I have to focus on what I’m doing right now, which is working and being the best office worker I can be.” Normally I have to work really hard to calm myself down, but these thoughts just surfaced without much effort- so I think the journal is helping.

Heck, when my husband and I pulled into the driveway at home after work, he looked at me and said, “I’m sorry dear.” He said it with the same sympathy you would give someone who’s family member was dying or in intensive care and you’re not sure if they’ll ever be the same again.

I thought right then and there that would be the point where I lost it- where I would start crying. I felt tears coming up, but instead all I said was, “There’s nothing we can do about it now. Let’s go inside and make dinner.”

Again, I did bury or bottle my feelings deep down, I just thought about what I can do at the present moment and what I can’t. The stuff I can’t do would not be fixed by getting upset or emotional.

The Positives

So, this tragedy happened. Getting angry or sad won’t make it un-happen. So what are some positive things?

  1. I believe it brought more attention to the other church vandalizations, it might actually wake people up and realize, “Oh crap! Our history and culture is being destroyed right under our noses!” I’m optimistic that people will care more about that now that we practically felt like we lost Notre Dame. I personally felt like I didn’t know the extent of it until the fire happened. It sucks that it took a major fire like that to bring awareness, but hopefully this can be
  2. No body was hurt or killed.
  3. A lot of the art and relics that were inside the cathedral are fine. In fact, since Notre Dame was under restoration, those things were already removed. The Crown of Thorns and the many statues that would have been inside are okay. Now- the fire was caused from the scaffolding because of said restoration, but again, trying to stay positive.
  4. It unified people. From what I have been seeing on social media- the loss and grief brought people together. Christians and Atheists alike came together in this time of grief over their mutual culture.
  5. At least it is repairable. Thankfully Notre Dame is mostly made of stone- sadly, the spire may probably be lost forever (but you never know, maybe they can save that too!), but at least it’s not bulldozed like the many Assyrian monuments in 2015.

Finally, where do I sign up?

After I gave myself 24 hours to grieve and sleep, my anger turned into… determination. I couldn’t do anything while the fire was happening- but now I’ve been thinking what can I do? Is there someplace legitimate I can donate to? (In times like this you have to be careful, so many awful awful people will start fundraising campaigns only to turn around and steal the money). Maybe they’ll take volunteer conservators who don’t have a masters degree, but quite a bit of experience? I don’t know if I honestly can up and leave and go to Europe again, but I’m willing to have my mind changed.

When a piece of culture endures destruction, it’s a tragedy that robs future generations of their past. We can’t be complacent and let our culture be destroyed, but when it happens, it’s more important than ever to come together and do our small part to prevent our beauty, history, and legacy to slip away.

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