Notre Dame was ablaze yesterday, the cathedral spires crowned in smoke like an unholy halo. People reacted as they normally do in moments of erasure–photos, prayers, temporary Facebook profile pictures. It was as if someone had died.
On Christmas Day in Hawaii, my parents and I went to the Kapoho tide pools, pockets of volcanic rock alive with sea urchins, and coral, and small darting fish. I wore my trusty Chacos and hopped around the blackened edges, peering down at sea slugs as thick as my wrist.
The Kilauea lava flow in 2018 decimated those tide pools. The sea urchins, and sea slugs, and small darting fish, all gone.
My biggest naivete as a teenager was how fully I believed in forever. That I would write something that would be known for hundreds of years, that I’d find someone (soon) and spend the rest of my life with that one person. I valued endurance. I treasured longevity—for myself, for my creativity, for my relationships.
I remember my first breakup in excruciating detail. It was the first time I’d experienced deep loss, the first time that dark cavern inside of me opened up and swallowed me into some lonely, fetid place. And I remember the last time I saw that particular ex. I remember his drug-fogged eyes and dirty apartment, and I remember that it was then I realized how many forms loss can take. That a person, or a place, can exist and still be gone forever.
How fervently we believe in forever is a sign of our own hubris. We believe that this planet we hold hostage won’t change. That the memory of ourselves will last longer than our own beating hearts. That people won’t leave.
I used to be overwhelmed by own insignificance, by the weightlessness of my small and fleeting life. But now, knowing that everything happens only once, that this is it, this is everything, somehow that now feels like a gift.
I am thrilled that Notre Dame was spared significant damage and that people are already emptying their pockets for restoration. But I can’t stop thinking about those Kapoho tide pools that are lost forever. And it makes me think about other natural spaces that are not yet gone, and how no one of power is frantically trying to preserve them. Rumor has it that there are oak trees in Versailles planted specifically for repairs to Notre Dame, but I can think of nothing that will replace the melting glaciers in Montana, doomed to disappear by 2030.
How do we choose what to care for? How do we decide what shape loss takes?
Some things are destined to leave us. We can pour all our funds, all our energy into preserving something, and we can lose it anyway. We can pour all our time, all our love into someone, and they can leave us anyway. Not everything that’s broken can be fixed. Not everyone who’s broken can be healed.