On the Power of Symbols: Notre Dame

The Fire at Notre Dame

Like millions of people, I am viscerally feeling the loss of the Notre Dame fire.

I felt that throb in the solar plexus of a heart hurt, a soul hurt, when I saw the first pictures of the spire engulfed. I stand at a distance from Notre Dame as a place and as a religious structure. And yet, I felt gutted as the fire gutted the cathedral, just as so many others are around the world.

I got into a conversation on social media (not a fight; I was shocked, too) with a friend about it. He was mystified by the response. He got that it was sad, but couldn’t understand why it felt so much more important than other events of the day, that mattered far more in tangible ways.

As I tried to answer him, it got me to thinking about the power of symbols. They capture our imaginations and open us to a sense of our infinite faculties, to borrow from Shakespeare. They can encompass and surpass the limitations of the people who have created them, so they become greater than the the imperfections of their origins.

On the Power of Symbols and Wild Ideas

And this got me working two more ideas:

First, the power and the beauty of the essence of a wild idea as a symbol. This symbol, this deep metaphor, drives us to reaching towards a big idea we have. It’s bigger than us. It’s bigger than our egos and insecurities and all of the myriad irritations and frustrations that going after what we’re dreaming inevitably entails. This drives me when I am not sure I can continue as we are creating Spillian. Making a place where imagination matters really, genuinely matters, as imperfect as my attempt to make it continues to be.

And second, how genuinely soul-wrenching it is when it feels as if that essence has been obliterated. (I think, really, this is the deep existential part of the fear thing we feel when we’re going after big ideas. We might inadvertently kill it by trying to birth a version of it.)

But here’s the thing – Notre Dame, as a symbol, hasn’t ceased to exist. While I am grieving those 12th centuries trees that made up the forest of its roof, I also know that Notre Dame has been rebuilt more than once. As it will be again.

And maybe, with that knowledge, we can learn a little about how we have dreamt it as a metaphor, and how we dream the metaphors that matter to us in our lives. So we are not obliterated when our ideas get burned down, but instead understand them as something that will continue to live on. We can rebuild them, if we choose.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Thank you.