Americans have both shaped and been shaped by history. We are generous; so are our friends. Today, we must pause to understand the importance of the horrific fire which consumed Notre Dame de Paris on Monday, then resolve with all our hearts to help the French rebuild.
In 1886, the People of France took up a collection – and donated $250,000 to build a gift for America. That gift was the Statute of Liberty, a symbol of America’s freedom, generosity and heart. The sum would top $7 million today.
Lady Liberty holds a torch in her right hand and a tablet in her left that bears the date July 4, 1776. A broken chain lies at her feet. The symbolism was profound even in its day – and profoundly admiring. The iron truss was designed by Gustav Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame.
There was more to the French gift than gratitude for our devotion to liberty, equality and the brotherhood of man. The bond went far deeper. It had to do with shared values, losses, and victories.
When struggling Americans needed help – no place to turn – in our Revolution, a brave Frenchman named Marquis de Lafayette, together with 10,000 French troops and 20,000 sailors showed up and took their place beside George Washington.
Lafayette stayed at Washington’s side through the brutal battles of Brandywine, Valley Forge, Albany, Monmouth and Yorktown. He was wounded at Brandywine, then commanded a third of the Revolutionary troops at Yorktown.
The French lost more troops at Brandywine than did Washington. The bond between the two was tight and timeless, as between Lafayette and Jefferson. Lafayette loved the depthless American spirit. The Americans were eternally grateful – and indebted – to the French.
Perhaps that was part of the 1886 gift which stands in New York Harbor today. At 305 feet in height, the Statue of Liberty rises 79 feet higher than the twin towers of Notre Dame de Paris’s West Façade – still standing by the Grace of God after Monday’s devastating fire. The American heart aches at this loss.
These two monuments embody the best in human friendship between individuals and cultures, and the best of mankind – a commitment of free men and women to faith, history, heart, freedom, humanity and generosity.
They are symbols of selflessness, the sort that bound Americans and Frenchmen together in trenches, bunkers and beaches through two searing wars for freedom, peace and Western civilization – in places like Verdun, Somme, and Meuse-Argonne, Normandy, Bastogne and the Ardennes.
Today, the Statue of Liberty stands tall. But that blessed, iconic Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris is brought low by fire. She has stood, a spiritual sentry, through the American and French Revolutions, through two World Wars, and for more than 600 years prior to Lafayette and Washington. Today, as never before, she is in need – and it is time we stand for her.
That is why Americans should take this moment to return the love that brought Lafayette and 30,000 Frenchmen to risk their all for us, and caused Gustav Eiffel, sculptor Frederic Bartholdi, and French donations to give us our Statue of Liberty.
The French must know that, in the heart-stopping loss of their peerless Notre Dame de Paris, we Americans are with them. Our hearts are as heavy as George Washington’s and the Marquis de Lafayette’s at the specter of deep loss, but our resolve is as firm as theirs at Yorktown.
We Americans are quick to remember, slow to forget, and historically generous. So are the French. We must now rise to help rebuild, restore and re-establish the grandeur and peace of Notre Dame, so we can again revere this symbol of all that is good, right and shared between eternal friends – in a world that too often moves as if history does not matter, when it does.