catastrophe, community, life, rebuilding

Catastrophe Converted

Lily Chang © 2019

Watching a live feed of Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames took me emotionally back to when I saw the smoke from the Twin Towers billowing and then collapse to the ground.

I couldn’t draw anything except short breaths. My heart raced. I might have even gritted my teeth.

The fires grew.

Angry red, orange, yellow blazes dominated the rooftop.

Grayish black singed the sky.

None of the damage done is insignificant.

This is a cathedral that took 182 years to build, starting in 1163 and finishing in 1345, and has been around for over 850 years.

It sustained significant damage during the French Revolution of 1789. Major renovation took place in the mid-19th century.

The roof, made from oak, was destroyed.

The spire fell.

Some 400 firefighters drove through heavy traffic and worked together to contain the fire. Their hard and fast work sustained much. The two bell towers. The artifacts, including the artwork. Most of the building.

The freak occurrence that took the Cathedral by storm surprised everyone. News of the damage spread quickly.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, is committed to engaging in collaborative effort to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral. It will happen.


All this has gotten me thinking.

We’ve all experienced travesties of different magnitudes. Some smaller. Some greater. But, we’ve all sustained damage.

Some of us renovate and rebuild our lives. But sometimes, we don’t recover.

What gets us through the tough stuff? Especially the unfortunate circumstances that catch us by surprise?


I’m not specially made of super tough stuff that will put me in the Guinness Book of World Records.

In fact, during the worst part of a storm in my life, perhaps a typhoon is a better description, I lost some 15 pounds. I didn’t have 15 to lose. Couldn’t have donated blood, even if I had wanted to.

During that bleak time, people sustained me.

My parents came more frequently. Just their presence meant so much. They also helped with the everyday stuff, taking kiddos to school, changing diapers, cooking meals.

When I could barely see straight and felt so discouraged, a friend took my eldest to kindergarten every day. That was no small commitment on her part. Going door-to-door, mine to the school’s, was a 35-minute drive, without any traffic, one way. Her doing that allowed me to focus my morning on nursing newborn twins, changing their diapers, and caring for my 3 year old.

At some point, another friend searched high and low for someone to watch my kiddos, so I could have a little break. I didn’t want to be away from them at all and couldn’t picture it, but I probably needed one.

The list goes on.

People held on to me and stood by my side through the toughest part of the storm.

Though the deluge hasn’t ended and is ongoing, with my people, my community, standing with me, the restoration and repairs started a few years ago. And, I’ve learned a lot about love since then. I’m much less naive and gullible than I once was, but the love I’ve learned to cherish, hold steadfast, and share and my understanding of it are so much richer, more complex, and life-giving. I can love my children and not expect them to reciprocate the same level of love. I can love friends without needing the same in turn. Yet, I can expect equal levels of love from certain people.

I guess my point is, what was once a catastrophe in my life has now converted and changed me to a stronger and resilient person, and I’m thankful for that.

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