The Bells of Notre-Dame

Morning in Paris
The city awakes
To the bells of Notre Dame
The fisherman fishes
The baker-man bakes
To the bells of Notre Dame

To the big bells as loud as the thunder
To the little bells soft as a psalm
And some say the soul of
The city’s the toll of
The bells
The bells of Notre Dame

Unfortunately, this morning the city of Paris will awake to fewer bells being rung than the one before. Notre-Dame Cathedral fell victim to fire amid renovations and while the main bells remain unharmed, the city of Paris, me, and the rest of the world mourns as this historic landmark cools to ash.

Growing up, Notre-Dame existed in my mind as a fictional sanctuary where Quasimodo spent his hermit days ringing the bells and making friends with the stone gargoyles; a place where gypsies like Esmeralda found a haven and answers to her questions; and a place where good out-weighed evil (AKA Claude Frollo – I had too many nightmares about this man squashin’ ants if you’ve seen the movie and you know what I mean).

This description may seem frivolous because my only real connection to this monument is through a Disney movie (based on a book published in 1831 by Victor Hugo that I’ve never even read) but stories like this with real meaning and historical significance (not to mention a pious link) have always captured my interest and my heart. Uh, yeah, to add to that the soundtrack from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is incredible. I really tend to connect with music that tells a story rather than one with a catchy tune. Cue Jim Croce.

It’s interesting – and kind of fateful, really. The overall themes from the story and the sentiment of the Cathedral catching on fire align with what’s going on in France and within the Catholic Church itself. Riots have plagued the streets of Paris in response to President Macron’s remarks/policies and the Catholic church is experiencing mass defamation because of the growing Catholic sex abuse crisis.

First comes chaos, then comes order. Nietzche, right? This may just be me finding meaning in something that should just be thought of pragmatically. But was it just a fire or something that signified more?

The religion of Catholicism is based on stories. Themes. Morals. Values. The Bible is a key that allows us to find meaning in life. My approach to Catholicism is personal and theological. I’m no evangelist, trust me. I am a Catholic. I am a confirmed member of the Church. I’m a realist, but I do believe. When symbols of love, sanctuary, community, faith, etc. are put in jeopardy you can see it as a tragedy, yes, but you can also see it as a sign.

Fire is a symbol of re-birth; a purifier; life, energy, change. Is this fire a symbol of regeneration during Holy Week? Just five days ahead of Jesus’ rising, crowds gathered on the streets of Paris and sang Ave Maria and watched as smoke billowed and filled the pale orange sky.

In the comments section of the New York Times piece on the event, this man summed up just about what I was thinking. 

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When I get the chance to visit Paris and witness what’s rebuilt of this historic, magnificent structure, I won’t feel let down. I believe I’ll feel hope. Because I will be in the presence of both the history and the future of Catholicism and Notre-Dame.

Blood Of My Blood: My Obsession with Ancestry.com

I had to start this post off with a Game Of Thrones reference. ‘Blood of my blood’, if you’re familiar with the show, is a reference to the Dothraki saying between a Khal and his blood-riders. (6 seasons later, I’m still mourning Khal Drogo. RIP.) It’s a term used to symbolize complete and utter loyalty. In other words, ‘blood of my blood’ means family.

Let’s face it. We all want to feel a connection with the people that came before us. What was their life like? What did they do for a living? When did they get married? How many children did they have? Where did they live? How did they cope with what was going on in the world at the time? I could go on and on. For me, and I’m guessing for most of us, the question really is: how are we alike? 

In this article by Dierdre Foley Mendelsson, Why are Americans Mad about Geneology?, she explores the phenomenon. Behind gardening, researching genealogy has become one of the top American at-home hobbies. Why? “We’re a massive, mobile nation, a nation of immigrants and assimilants, still lacking a robust sense of history, and if nothing else the surprise of six degrees of separation makes us feel less alone.” Her explanation does make sense.

Researching our genealogical line is a modern privilege. Technology like Ancestry.com makes it SO much easier than ever before to find our ancestors through real, true evidence. The site offers hints and these hints can be added to your family tree if found accurate. Hints can be documents like birth records, death records, newspaper clippings, censuses, pictures, and links to other member’s trees that have similar information that can help solidify that hunch that you are, in fact, related to a certain individual and even resemble them in a certain way.

Hints aren’t the only way you can find your blood-riders on the site. Ancestry.com offers DNA tests. I know this is old news (I’ve seen the commercials, too), but as someone who’s had the opportunity to test three of my close family members DNA (my Dad and both of my grandparents on my Mom’s side), I can attest to the reliability of the tests. The DNA also links you to others (distant relatives) on the site that have made their results visible, which allows you to confirm or deny any assumptions you could have about your biological link to some of the ancestors in your tree.

Most recently, my Dad’s DNA was updated as a result of a mass influx of more samples due to the site’s success. More samples = more accuracy. His DNA report changed dramatically as a result, and oui oui, he was more French than we originally thought! This DNA aligned with the research we’d done up his family tree, so I knew I could trust its accuracy.

Even the names we choose to name our children may hold more significance than thought previously. For instance, I was named after my great-grandmother Amelia on my Mom’s side. After doing some research on my Dad’s, I discovered another Amelia, my great-great-grandmother Sarah’s sister.

I also indulge in the PBS show Finding Your Roots (with Henry Louis Gates Jr.). I told you I was obsessed. The show follows well-known celebrities as they unearth their familial histories and even debunk some of their long-held beliefs about their heritage. The host Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University professor, accomplished filmmaker and journalist, and his web of connections within the historical academic community analyze DNA and historical records of ancestors of notable names like Susan Sarandon, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tina Fey, Larry David, and my favorite lawmaker of the great state of Vermont, Sen. Bernie Sanders, among others.

It’s good TV. If you’re anything like me, a ride-or-die fan of Law & Order SVU, Forensic Files48 Hours Mystery, (or just good ol’ Snapped on Oxygen), you love a mystery. I love the drama of it all. Incredible lineage is discovered, long-held secrets are unearthed, and even seemingly bad revelations in the series are given new light which somehow leads each episode ending on an uplifting note.

If I’ve learned anything from my own research and this show, it’s this. Researching heritage can be a lot to emotionally process. It’s important to remember that these people (your people) were just that: people. They were dealt their cards just like we were dealt ours. And we may be blood-related, but we are not our ancestors. We have the chance to not be like the worst of ’em, but be like the best of ’em.