I was sixteen years old the first time I laid eyes on Notre Dame de Paris. I marveled at the intricacy of her facade: the carvings, the grandure, the stories being told in brick and mortar. And that was just the threshhold. Stepping inside this fortress of protection, I was awed by her towering gothic arches that rose so high above my head! And then there was the Rosace, the most beautiful piece of stained glass art that my eyes had ever witnessed, which contrasted a shot of color against the epic stone walls. She was stunning. So beautiful. So reverent and strong.
How on Earth did they build this in an era that preceded electricity and cranes and forklifts? It took centuries to erect this masterpiece and I was inspired by the dedication of Man to build something that they would never see completed. As I stood in her shelter full of awe and wonder, I had never considered that she could crumble. The same can be said for my married life. But in the Spring of 2019, all of that changed.
I have been fortunate enough to revisit Notre Dame de Paris several times throughout my life, but it was the last two that were the most transformative. It was in the spring of 2017 when my then-husband had earned an all-expenses paid trip to Paris for a week that Notre Dame spoke to me for the first time. On our final night there, we floated down the Seine River on a dinner cruise where we passed the majestic cathedral, illuminated in her radiant strength where she has been a source of artistic inspiration, welcoming spiritual seekers, tourists and weary hearts for centuries. She had survived wars and revolutions and endured storms and still she stood, strong and beautiful.
As we floated passed her that night, she whispered words of affirmation to me, telling me that I would secure the position of French teacher at Sage International School of Boise, where our family would soon relocate to, after a lifetime of living in the Bay Area of California. In June of 2017 we moved to Bosie to rebuild our life, on the foundation of doing more of what we loved, leaving the noise and the stress of the Bay behind us. In July of that same year, my husband and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary. Life felt full of infinite possibilites. And it was. I just never thought that the possibility of divorce was among them.
In the evening of April 15, 2019, word and images quickly spread across the globe recounting the horror of a fire burning at the cathedral of Notre Dame, which had been set off by sparks from an electrical repair during a restoration project of the Spire. Built of stone, the damage was limited to the roof which caused the collapse of her iconic spire, which was a 19th century addition to the Gothic cathedral. The hearts of Parisians and admirerers of this landmark were broken to see this refuge of love falter and break. President Emmanuel Macron declared that Notre Dame de Paris would be reconstructed to her former glory within five years.
In July of that same year, the sparks of destruction in our marriage ignited, just days after celebrating our 19th wedding anniversary. The roof of our family had caved in. The high steeple fell. The news spread among family and friends and there was shock and heartbreak that the stable fortress of our family 2.0 could crumble. But it did in March of 2020. And like Notre Dame, our lives would take years to reconstruct.
Last week I floated down the river Seine once again. Unlike the previous visit, this time I floated past Notre Dame as a single woman who was accompanied by five magnificent former students and a boat load (literally) of tourists. It was a heart-breaking shock to see the cathedral in such a state of disrepair after all these years. From the front, she still looks beautiful and strong; the only remarkable difference is that she’s missing her spire. Yet from the side-vantage from the Seine, her wounds are exposed, surrounded by scaffolding and cranes that speak to all that she has endured.
Notre Dame crumbled in 2019, just like my marriage. And she is still being rebuilt, like our family. There was such peace and comfort in that thought as I floated by. And she whispered to me once again, with these precious words of advice:
Advice from Notre Dame
- You’re going to be okay. She whispered “Your foundation is strong. You are a bell tower and your ex is the other. Your family was shaken and wounded by the end of your marriage, the roof fell in, but you are still alive. And you’re going to be okay”
- Expose your wounds. She whispered “Do not pretend that there was no dammage done. Show your pain to others, be vulnerable with your story so that others can bear witness to your reconstruction.”
- Feel the pain. She whispered “Your name, Andrea Blythe, means Strong Spirit. Draw on the strength of those who have come before you, those who have endured the pain of divorce. Listen to words of encouragement as you feel your way through the abyss of the unknown. Greive what has been lost and allow the pain to flow through you. Do not ignore it or deny it. It is an essential part of your healing.”
- Healing takes time. She whispered “The reconstruction of your life is worth doing well, so do not rush the process. There will be good days and bad days, but everyday is a step towards a deeper understanding of who you are and the gifts you have to offer in the lifetime. A temple is worthy of being well-reconstructed, and like all things done well, that will take time.”
- Gather a team of support. She whispered “Invite others to help you rebuild and restore your beauty and strength. Read the wisdom of authors, listen to the teachings of spiritual guides, commune with a supportive community of friends new and old. Allow your team to support you like scaffolding as you do the inner work of reconstruction.”
- Stand strong in your worth. She whispered “At times you will feel unworthy of love, and you will question your self worth. Do not listen to those voices. The world needs you to stand strong in your own splendor. You are worthy of reconstruction.”
- Your essence hasn’t changed. She whispered “Beneath the burnt facade, your inner being remains the same. Like the stained glass windows, you have a vibrancy that remains intact and is intended to allow the light to shine through it. Let your inner beauty be seen.“
- Flow like the River Seine. She whispered “Like the river that surrounds me, it is ever changing and yet ever constant. So is your life ever changing and ever constant. Flow with the tides of change. Do not resist them. Evolve. Transform. And allow new possibilities to flow into your life.”
- Be a refuge for weary souls. She whispered “As your story unfolds and you regain your strength, be a safe place for others who are beginning their transformational journey, just as those who went before you did for you. Teach your lessons, share your love, create a sense of saftey and security to those whose foundation has been rocked”
- Open your doors to new possibilities. She whispered “This is just the begninning of a newly restored, strongly rebuilt version of YOU. Welcome the possibilites of new beginnings into your life. Give thanks to your wounds, to the healing process, to your team of support. You deserve the beauty and splendor of the life of your dreams. It’s waiting for you. It’s time to open your doors.”
I write this post in the early morning hours of what would have been our 23rd wedding anniversary. I am still putting the pieces of my life back together, discovering my identity as a single woman, mother of three, and solopreneur in search of greater meaning. Notre Dame’s reconstruction is not yet complete and she’s got International support behind her. That reassures me on my own healing process.
Next summer the Olympic games are set to take place in this city of Love and Light. Will she be fully restored by then? Will her doors be ready to once again receive spiritual seekers, tourists and those in need for comfort and shelter? Will she be ready? Are we ever ready? Are we ever fully rebuilt?
It took centuries to build this cathedral. She is the reflection of the human spirit and our need to create beauty and sanctity in our lives. I encourage us all to embrace the enduring spirit of Notre Dame and hold firm through the storms of change. We are all works of art, an ever changing process of growth and transformation. May her story give you comfort. May you lean on her strength. And may her advice be an encouragement as you navigate through your own journey of reconstruction.
In honor of her beautiful spirt, I’ve chosen the song “Belle” to accompany this post. This song, inspired by Hugo’s 1833 story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, tells the story of the love and longing for Esmerelda as told through the eyes of three men. As some of you may know, Esmerelda is the name of a character that I create for myself; she is my inner Goddess, my courageously authentic embodiement of self. It was in the early morning hours that I realized this final connection to the cathedral of Notre Dame. I have taught this song every year since teaching at Sage, and it is the perfect way to say “adieu” to my career, to the life that I have known, and to the reconstruction of all the infinite possibilites to come.