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Death of the Immortal

In the moment, I watched, transfixed, gut-punched, as flames colored the smoky nimbus with an infernal glow. The incandescent spire bent, toppled over, and fell, a spear of fire hurled into the breaking heart of Paris. My mind burned with the revelation:

This is how immortals die.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris had always been there, a fixture of wonderment, awesome, a masterpiece of stone and lead, wood and glass. She was eternal, a legend shrouded in the mists of a different age, a goddess standing tall in the world of men. It had never occurred to me that she could be harmed, that she could die.

But the sight before me said otherwise. As timbers collapsed, as The Forest of attic timbers, each as old as memory, burned hot and bright, as the conflagration spread down transept and nave, I could only think:

She is gone.

In the aftermath, we learned that not all was lost, that the stone vaults beneath the timbered roof had only failed where the spire had pierced them. The limestone of walls, columns, buttresses, and arches, though crumbling at the edges, had stood firm. Even most of the window glass had survived the heat.

I was a reluctant Roman Catholic as a child, converted to Judaism in my youth, spent decades in agnostic dilemma, and now live a religiously unfettered life as a staunch atheist, and yet . . .

And yet, the cathedral means something to me. She is more than just an icon, a symbol of Catholicism, a relic of a darker age. She is a thing of unutterable beauty. She is the embodiment of the human capacity for aspiration and genius, discipline and devotion, a reflection of the divine within us all. Though it will be decades before she is restored, we will some day be able to once more walk the cruciform aisles beneath her soaring stone.

She is immortal still.

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