The first time I went to Paris, it was only for two or three days, the tail-end of a business trip for Husband. I had been to England and Scotland, but this was my first visit to France and I was beyond excited. It was around 1997 and I remember patiently hunting for the perfect hotel, using my oh-so-slow dial-up internet connection.
I didn’t know a lot about the city, but I did my homework and found a perfect hotel–charming, great location and it didn’t break the bank. After riding the world’s smallest elevator to our room to drop off the bags, we went exploring. I knew the hotel was close to Notre Dame, but I didn’t realize that it was literally a two minute walk down one side street, across the broad avenue and then over the bridge onto the Ile de la Citie.
For me, Notre Dame was love at first sight. Even with the hordes of tourists and school children, even with the beggars and street vendors, it is a place that exudes holiness and grace and peace. To walk inside is to be awe-struck by the thought of all who have walked before you for the last eight centuries.
I’ve been back to Paris a half-dozen times since then, and the first thing I always do is walk down the side street, across the avenue and over the bridge to Notre Dame.
On one trip a few years ago I was with family making (for the most part) their first trip to Paris. I put them on a sight-seeing bus and took my knitting bag to Notre Dame. There is a garden to the back of the cathedral complete with park benches and perfect views of the famous flying buttresses.
As I sat there knitting, I noticed an attractive young couple on the next bench, also enjoying the view. All of a sudden, my peaceful reverie was broken by the young woman’s scream. It was a deathly sounding keen of pure misery and disbelief. It was a sound I’d never heard before.
She screamed over and over again–she had obviously received a devastating phone call. Her companion wrapped her in his arms and she continued to scream. He tried to comfort her in a language I didn’t understand.
People all around the garden were noticing and moving away. I didn’t know what to do.
I was so close that I was afraid they’d notice if I left and think that I wasn’t aware of their despair. I considered trying to help, but I was paralyzed.
I considered searching out a priest or nun. After all, this was the mother church and it was surely full of priests. I kept hoping one would walk by, but no one did.
In the end, I did nothing. I sat, with my eyes cast down, saying a prayer for her–hoping she would find the strength to manage.
I am sorry, though, that I didn’t do more.