Old buildings symbolize the notion that not everything must end. This is the promise of many religions, a hope that centuries of worshipers who gathered inside Notre Dame shared. But even fervent atheists can feel the desire for continuity in a vast and ever-evolving universe that seems indifferent to them. When old things burn, we restore them, even if those are not the real 28 kings.
This makes a place such as Notre Dame an ambivalent monument to persistence. It is a collection of additions, restorations, replacements — each representing humanity’s unwillingness to let this piece of history erode away. Who’s to say it was right to remove the stone’s grime, changing the color from the one living Parisians already knew — and preventing my dad from seeing the west facade? The drive to make the building, at once authentic and inauthentic, seem like a firmer connection to the past made it worth the effort.
Notre Dame is not dead. The cathedral will rise again. It will be beautiful once more. The spire will be as delicate. But somehow the cathedral will not be quite as alive as it once was.