I have known Mark Rivlin for many years. He is a brilliant writer when the mood is right. You can see some of his work at http://www.markrivlin.co.uk/ Here is his view on Notre Dame amongst some other things.
Like millions of people worldwide, I was shocked and greatly saddened by the Notre Dame fire. That an iconic building that has given so much pleasure to generations of its visitors could almost disappear is both worrying and shocking. And it is the shock of the event that I resonate with. We have always lived with Tales of the Unexpected, those ‘where were you’ moments that shape a generation. They leave a lasting impression firmly entrenched on our subconscious, a place where we find it difficult to revisit.
I would like to share three of those defining moments in my lifetime. At the age of eight in November 1963, I was sitting with my mum and dad and older brother and sister watching our postage stamp television on a Friday night. And from nowhere the comedy Harry Worth programme was interrupted by the announcement of the shooting of President John F Kennedy. In those formative years I had a basic grasp of world affairs from listening to endless discussions on politics so I knew about President Kennedy. I will always remember the way my parents looked at each other without actually saying anything. It was a haunting look that confirmed to me how important and devastating the murder was. Riding high on a wave of popularity, Kennedy was destined to be the man to save the world. And from nowhere, he and his destiny were dead. I reflect on that Friday evening from time to time, wondering how different the world may have looked today.
The second event was the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989. Through a contact at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club I was fortunate to have been present at the same stadium in 1988 when the same teams (Liverpool and Nottingham Forest) were playing. I think that game finished 1-1 but I barely recall any specific details because my abiding memory was seeing how packed the Leppings Lane end of the stadium reserved for Liverpool fans was so overcrowded compared to the much bigger terracing area at the other end of the ground where the Forest supporters were housed. It seemed absurd that Liverpool, with a much larger fan base, was given a much smaller area. So it was not an out-of-the-blue shock exactly one year later when the same teams in the same stage of the FA Cup in the same allocated areas resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans. The warning signs were there a year earlier and yet nothing was done.
The third incident is one that haunts me to this day. I am a cricket umpire officiating once a week in a league north of London. Three years ago in a match this random piece of misfortune occurred. Please excuse me if you do not know about cricket but the only way to describe it involves using some cricketing terminology. I was at the striker’s end, my colleague was at the bowler’s end. The batter hit the ball towards the boundary, a fielder collected it and threw it in. My colleague was standing with his back to the ball as it came in, a fielder shouted ‘watch out umps’ (umpire) and my colleague turned round and before he could move, the ball bounced in front of him and hit him in his eye socket. He was rushed to hospital but lost the eye. You start a glorious July day looking forward to umpiring a cricket match and you end up with one eye thanks to a freak bounce of a ball.
So however much we love President Kennedy, sport and magnificent architecture, our lives can be made better or worse by random events that disrupt the narrative. The world’s heart stopped collectively beating when we saw the Notre Dame flames. But we can and will rebuild. How it happened we can discover. Why it happened when it did is unclear. Should we be concerned or just take it in our stride? he American writer Paul Auster catches the zeitgeist of the unexpected in his novel The New York Trilogy: “In the end, each life is no more than the sum of contingent facts, a chronicle of chance intersections, of ﬂukes, of random events that divulge nothing but their own lack of purpose.”