The way I found out that Notre Dame was on fire yesterday was not through any news outlet, but rather through the countless old selfies people were posting to social media to voice their anguish. I’m not saying people shouldn’t have felt those feelings yesterday; the cathedral is a cultural icon, and watching history go up in literal flames is certainly distressing. But there was (in my opinion, anyway) an enormous amount of absurdity in the way people have responded to the events considering the roughly eight million other things that are on fire in 2019. The state of the environment, for example, feels like the place we should consider directing our chorus of “Ave Maria”.
I thought about saying those words yesterday, but could already hear the backlash. “I marveled at the beauty of Notre Dame when I was fifteen! It awakened my sense of wonder, Megan! I am the person I am today because of it! Here is the picture to prove that Notre Dame and I were incredibly close! How can you deny us this moment of grieving for a place so steeped in history!”
I’m not trying to deny anyone anything. (And, for the record, I genuinely believe people when they say they feel a deep connection to the landmark.) I think it’s perfectly reasonable for people to feel upset about what happened yesterday. It’s a goddamn shame. But, in the words of the Old El Paso Hard and Soft Tacos Girl, “Por que no los dos?” Why can’t we be sad about yesterday, but apply those same feelings of panic to other more pressing issues? Why can’t the billionaires start donating millions of euros to environmental and humanitarian efforts, rather than just to restore historic sites?
If we knew the Notre Dame Cathedral was going to catch fire in advance, had even an hour to plan for it, wouldn’t we try to stop it? From the outcry on the internet yesterday, I think it would be reasonable to say we’d do everything in our power to prevent the damage. And so why aren’t we applying that same logic to the massive problems that stand to destroy the planet and ourselves?
Feel free to express your sorrow about yesterday in any way you want. But when the world fully goes up in flames, much like an inanimate cathedral, I don’t think it’s going to care much about your sentimental photographs or your singing or your money. We know the path we’re on, so let’s start putting the work in.