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The Lady's Progress

Last month, I happily got to spend a couple of days in Paris. Whenever I visit Paris, one of my first stops is Notre Dame. This time was no exception.

The appearance of the cathedral now is jarring. I had never fully appreciated how much of its height came from its roof and how much of its presence on the skyline came from its spire. Now it looks like its hairstylist took way too much off the top, and the bell towers look strangely lonely against the sky. It’s also a bit alarming to see that the flying buttresses are themselves now buttressed by wooden supports, a sign of how weakened the structure is. Many of the stained-glass windows appear to have been removed, though it’s hard to see through all the scaffolding and netting and tarps. Behind a high barricade wall topped with barbed wire, Our Lady looks like a prisoner.

I was also a bit taken aback, at first, by the number of people I saw taking selfies with Notre Dame in the background. It felt like someone taking a selfie in front of the sight of a disaster: a dark kind of voyeurism and somehow a little distasteful. But then I realized: Notre Dame is still an icon of Paris. It’s still beautiful and impressive, even in its wrecked condition. Especially for people who have never been to Paris before, a picture with Notre Dame is still just as important as a picture with the Eiffel Tower. People will – and should – continue to flock there. There is actually a positivity and hopefulness in those selfies that I find very reassuring.

I look forward to watching the slow reconstruction process over the course of future visits. And even though it will be many years before we can go back inside, you should still make a pilgrimage to see Notre Dame on your next visit to Paris. Go ahead and take a selfie.

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