by Anita DiGregory
On April 15, 2019, a massive fire destroyed much of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The devastating fire took nearly 15 hours to extinguish. Within that time, the roof and exquisite spire were destroyed, collapsing into the cathedral’s interior ceiling. When sections of this stone vaulting collapsed, the marble floor below was littered with burning roof. Historic arches were damaged, and pews were destroyed. More than 400 firefighters fought to save the cathedral, while 100 more labored to save priceless relics and artifacts. Stories of bravery, courage, and faith surfaced, detailing the heroes who worked tirelessly to save the cathedral and her treasures. In the end, the Blessed Sacrament was saved, as well as the two towers and most of the artifacts. Later, photos of the sunlight streaming through and illuminating the miraculous, surviving cross and altar appeared across social media outlets.
Perhaps one of the most captivating aspects of this tragic event was the reaction of not just the French people, but people young and old around the world. Almost instantly, local crowds gathered in prayer and song. Meanwhile, people around the world watched, waited, and prayed, shocked and saddened.
It seems obvious why such a tragedy would cause such great sadness for Catholics, who were mourning the loss of such a treasure of the Church: the sacred site of conversions, healing, prayer, and sacraments. But this tragedy reached across age, gender, and faiths, touching so many. One could surmise that the reason it has touched so many is because it means something deeply personal to each of us. Whether that reason was seeped in faith, memories, history, beauty, art, or something else, this devastation united us in thought, prayer, and reflection.
Personally, as I reflected on the tragic events, I was reminded of a short story I had read once. The Invisible Mother by Nicole Johnson details the story of a mom who was experiencing a bit of an existential crisis, as it seemed she had become invisible. It all started to make sense to her one day when her son referred to her as “nobody.” A crossing guard had asked the youngster who was accompanying him; but instead of acknowledging his mom, he said, “Nobody.”
This, she reasoned, was why no one ever listened to, acknowledged, or payed mind to her advice, comments, or commands…why no one ever offered to help…why she could be there serving, helping, managing, loving 24/7, but never really be seen. She surmised she must indeed be invisible.
She continued to feel invisible until one night a girlfriend gifted her with a book on the Europe’s great cathedrals, and it was signed, “With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”
As a result, Johnson states: “I discovered what would become for me, four life-changing truths: (1.) No one can say who built the great cathedrals—we have no record of their names; (2.) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished; (3.) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit; (4.) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.”
Being a mom is hard, labor-intensive work. Whether you are a sleep-deprived new momma, a single mom trying to cover all the bases, a dedicated stay-at-home mom, an empty-nester trying to figure out where to go from here, a working mom struggling to do all you can at home and at work, a mom of littles or of not-so-littles or of both, a grieving mom, a step or foster momma, a grandmother, a mother caring for a sick child or a child with special needs, whatever the momma…this job is not for the faint of heart. The hours are long, and the work is intense. There will be newborn sleepless nights; there will be waiting up for a driving teenager sleepless nights; and there will be tossing and turning, praying, and worrying over your young adults sleepless nights. There will be moments of sheer physical, spiritual, and emotional exhaustion, and moments of utter joy and elation. At times you are gonna feel sticky, smelly, exhausted, scared, anxious, embarrassed, unsure, and, yes, even invisible. But be assured, you are not invisible. God sees all you do and so do others. Your work may be hard, but what you are doing is so very important. You are building a human. So, continue building in love; the reward is immeasurable.
Johnson adds, “As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right—which is why we may feel invisible some days. But one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.”
“Love of a Mother” by Christina DiGregory.