We learn about the world through pictures, movies, stories. We establish relationships with our favorite locations: New York City, the Grand Canyon, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China … even though we have never been there.
Then the day arrives when we arrive. The day of the first meeting. Like old friends who were only aware of each other, both curious, both uncertain, both hoping to make a positive impression.
I’m standing in front of the Notre Dame. It’s dark and rainy, the grand plaza in front of the cathedral filled with temporary buildings and ramps all in preparation for some grand summer event. I move around the scaffolding to get my first look at the Grand Dame and as she looms up proudly in front of me I am struck by the clear and awesome fact that I had no idea what she looked like. So I stand there and say to myself, “This is you? This is what you look like?” And I wonder “where are the twisted and tortured gargoyles, where is the powerful raging energy of the woman misunderstood and abused and forgotten? Where are the stories, the legends, the bells, the ropes, the hunchback?”
What is standing in front of me is proud, robust, confident. An architectural wonder of such intricacy and complexity that I can see it would take me days or weeks to even explore all of her attributes, alleys and hidden crevices. And I am in awe all over again.
And now I am aware that I am not meeting an old friend for the first time. I am meeting a totally new friend, and the old friend, the fantasy friend, the friend of my imagination and longing and dread slips quietly and reluctantly into a comfortable corner of my mind, hoping to be remembered, hoping to be honored, hoping to be recalled.
I will visit her again, perhaps today. She’s expecting me. And I’m expecting to, once again, be startled, amazed and in awe.