LOWELL -- Background noise is important to me when I write. Perhaps, that is because I spent 16 years as a Sun staff reporter and editor hearing the squawk of police radios and the percussion of typesetting equipment in the background as I worked.

I had CNN on Monday afternoon and that is how I heard of a fire somewhere in the neighborhood of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. That report, however, was quickly followed by news that it was the cathedral itself burning.

I stopped work and found myself shaking.

Notre Dame is many things: the heart of Paris for eight centuries as well as the small, medieval domain of France. It served as the model for later Gothic churches throughout Europe, and it was the loving work of laborers and craftsmen across two centuries who dedicated their lives to the glory of God.

Linked to its history, too, are the names Joan of Arc, Victor Hugo, and Napoleon among others.

Most of all, it is one of the world's "thin places" -- an ancient Celtic term for a location where heaven and earth appear to intersect. The exterior architecture reaches towards the heavens, while the interior stained glass brings sacred light to worshippers within.

I suspect I was shaking because I recall it as a sacred intersection of heaven and earth.

However, it was the profane experience of winning a contest that enabled me to explore the cathedral 20 years ago. I worked for Cisco Systems in 1999 as a technical writer, at a time when the company was growing furiously.


Human resources encouraged all employees to submit friends' resumes with the promise that one employee would win a long weekend to anywhere with a cost not to exceed $3,000.

I submitted a resume and a few weeks later my phone rang. I was the winner of the trip. Now, I had to decide where to go. As a lifelong Anglophile and frequent visitor to England, London beckoned. But, if someone else is paying, why not make a different choice?

With the help of Cisco's travel group, I booked a five-day trip to Paris and brought a friend with me, a fellow Anglophile who might never have considered Paris as a destination otherwise.

We walked all over Paris during those five days and saw the city in ways that bus tours make impossible. On the day we visited the cathedral, we walked eight miles up-and-down the left and right banks of the Seine. Eventually, we crossed one of its bridges to the Île de la Cité, the island where the cathedral still stands, badly damaged but not destroyed.

We took many trips together over the years, but this was a favorite. We left Paris intending to return but time passed. My friend died unexpectedly two weeks ago, so that opportunity is lost for her.

While the opportunity is still there for me, I'm not sure I want to see the city until Notre Dame is restored and a thin place once again.