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Ice Cream at the Cathedral

by Lauren Arzbaecher
Illustration by Mollie Phalen

Illustration by Mollie Phalen

Illustration by Mollie Phalen

Notre Dame is on fire and all I can think about is ice cream. Melting chocolate dripping down the front of a white t-shirt. My small frame laughing at my sister’s embarrassment while my mother frantically wipes at the stain on the previously clean garment. Fellow tourists watching with pitiful eyes. A memory conquered by a frozen treat rather than the ancient cathedral we were waiting in line to enter. 

When my family traveled to France, I was in kindergarten. Back when I still had blue eyes and my biggest concern was what weekend I was taking care of the class pet. The only responsibility I had on the trip was to write down something we did each day in a journal to show my teacher, Mrs. Marx. Safe to say the entries were less than novel-worthy. 

The only French that I can recall is the word for apple juice—jus de pomme—as it was my drink of choice as a kid. I remember getting souvenir coins at practically every place we stopped, spending nights in the hotel room looking over the gaudy tokens. I collected coins at all the typical tourist destinations: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and of course, Notre Dame. 

One isn’t usually remiss for forgetting something that happened when their age was in the single digits, but when I opened my phone to the horrific videos of Notre Dame engulfed in flames, I wanted to find my younger self and scream at her for focusing on the ice cream. My heart sank as I watched live coverage of the steeple collapsing onto the street where I had once stood. 

I was certainly not the only one to look back on their visit to Notre Dame. Social media feeds were flooded with old photos of in front of the famous western façade. Grainy snapshots of slightly awkward stances blocking parts of the stained glass, all finished off with an Instagram filter and a message of remembrance or sadness. 

I’m not sure if I would even have had a photo to post, the only pictures from the trip stuffed into a photo album somewhere at my parents’ house, but social media posts adorned with heart emojis seemed like a disservice to Notre Dame. Of course it was a tragedy, of course we want to remember the cathedral before the fire, of course there are different ways of showing grief, of course we are in a digital age where online is the first place we go to express ourselves, of course there is not much more any of us could have done. 

Though there is something I could have done. At least my kindergarten self, though I think the idea applies to those past age five. To take a moment, and look away from the ice cream—or any other non dairy-related distraction—and really live.