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Reminded of Our Icons by Notre Dame

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 15:57

In the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, there is a reminder of how buildings can hold a community together. Churches, old houses, beloved places provide a feeling of permanence in an impermanent world. They give us a sense of who we are, simply because they are an icon we can call our own. For France and for much of the world, as one man on a Paris street told The New York Times this week, the Notre Dame tragedy was like losing a member of the family.

Special places are repositories of memories. For some of us on the East End it might be our beaches. A sunrise seen from the rocks below the Montauk Lighthouse.

More broadly in the United States, we find identity in Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Cincinnati Arch, Faneuil Hall in Boston, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, the Alamo, Mount Vernon, Monticello, and the Capitol, built with the labor of the enslaved.

For native people, there are also the cliff dwellings in New Mexico, burial mounds preserved in the Southeast, ancient languages and stories retained through family and oral tradition. And there are painful memories of tragedy at sacred sites, including those here on the South Fork defiled for modern construction.

Here, too are buildings crafted by hand hundreds of years ago that still stand. There are existing barns where centuries of grain was kept. The pair of whale’s jaws at the Sag Harbor Museum, itself an old Masonic temple, remind us of what once was.

The diversity of America is reflected in the breadth of its icons. For us, as Americans, our common thread may be more an idea than a place or building, though it can be contained within them. At our best, we are brought together by a shared concept of freedom and free expression, representative democracy, equal treatment for all, and opportunity. Perhaps what represents this best of all, though, is the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, reminding us of the ideals that created our nation out of so many disparate places and people — a reminder of the hope that one day we will finally live as one.


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