History turned to ashes
Perhaps there cannot be one objective definition of loss or agony. And when it is of magnitude as that of Notre Dame, hearts sear in pain and torment. As decades of heritage went up in flames, uncountable memories, moments and meanings were buried deep and destroyed. Such creations are iconic and they remind us of the immense creativity and masterstrokes of our forefathers that have stood the test of time. The cathedral has an extraordinary power as a symbol of France and sympathising with the French in their moment of loss, people from all over the world mourned together. France's loss was their loss, too. After all, Notre Dame is a summit of human achievement — a timeless expression of the quest for goodness, beauty and comprehension of mankind. It was indeed a 'part of us is burning' feeling as most aptly put by French President Emmanuel Macron. The Paris cathedral has a specific place in the collective consciousness, in France, in Europe and everywhere else in the world. It has been the most visited monument in Europe for epochs, through war and peace alike. This stone structure speaks of French history and its roots where the Christian faith held a decisive spot. With this history turning into ashes within hours, the 96-metre high spire vanishing into oblivion and the smoke clouding the Paris skyline; it was a heart-wrenching sight for hundreds of those who witnessed the collapse. Notre Dame, meaning 'Our Lady' in English, has been a witness to several key historical moments, with almost 13 million people visiting the cathedral every year. Just outside is a plaque that marks 'Point Zero' — the official centre of the capital and the marker in France from which all distances to Paris are measured. From Napoleon Bonaparte's coronation as emperor in 1804, Joan of Arc's beautification, several world leaders attending the memorial services for former French presidents Charles de Gaulle and François Mitterrand, to remaining largely unscathed during the two World Wars, ringing of the tenor bell to mark the end of Nazi occupation in 1944 and holding the centre stage for literary depiction in famous novels; Notre Dame has transformed itself into a character. Fifty people have been assigned to investigate the fire. As flames ravaged the cathedral's roof, praises poured in for the 'courage and determination' of firefighters who 'risked their own lives' to salvage the building's stone structure and its twin towers. President Macron has vowed to reconstruct it within five years and to make it 'even more beautiful'. However, the real challenge will be to convert this catastrophe into an opportunity to come together and rebuild one of the earth's most beautiful and historic epicentres.