When Notre Dame caught on fire this week, I cried. Like so many of the French people, my tears were ones of complete and utter sadness and loss mixed with memories of visiting the cathedral in the six summers my husband and I spent in Paris. My husband, Robert, was French, a devout Catholic and each Sunday we went to Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral and ate lunch afterwards in Le Cite.

But this past week, when I saw the great cathedral burning uncontrollably, one Sunday memory came flooding back.

To be living in Paris on a Sunday on the Fourth of July, when one of the largest holidays in our country was taking place, seemed strange and made me long for home.

That day, we went to Mass as usual, entered the cathedral ahead of hundreds of tourists who were lined up and took our seats in the one of the pews. I was surprised to see the Concert Choir of New York and an American priest were celebrating Mass. I felt suddenly at home.

When the pipes of the Notre Dame organ rang out and a hundred American voices filled the cathedral with glorious American and French music, something special happened. Notre Dame's stone walls exploded with an extraordinary sound that reverberated throughout the great cathedral. The sound became part of my breath, filling my heart and body with its glory. It was as if America and France had joined together as one, charging everyone present with their electricity and unity.

The concert ended and Notre Dame parishioners, the New York Concert choir and hundreds of tourists from all over the world stood as one in a great silence. No one moved, no one applauded. Tears were running unabashedly down my cheeks.

The concert choir, dressed in formal black, filed silently two by two down the center aisle of Notre Dame. Their faces, wet with tears and filled with emotion, matched mine.

I am grateful I was there on that Fourth of July, to have experienced this unique moment at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I have often asked myself, was this a moment when excellence is so exquisite, so unique, so moving that all who are present feel its power? Or are they captured in a moment where time stops and God reaches down his hand and touches everyone?

Gail Deschamps


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