I lit candles for Kick at every church in Paris.
I visited for the first time when I was heavily pregnant, against the advice of everyone but my doctor. An overnight transatlantic flight at seven and a half months gone, plus a week of walking nonstop, climbing stairs and taking trains and buses and cabs, in what was going to be a chilly November the week before Thanksgiving? Ridiculous.
Kick’s coming wasn’t known to anyone outside our families, then. Even among our close friends, I shunned mention of the pregnancy, fear lingering from the decade of trying before her conception. Paris was yet another way of denying the inevitable, of protecting myself. We planned the trip, rented the apartment, and I slept intermittently from from O’Hare to Charles de Gaulle.
The first morning, we walked up the hill in our neighborhood to Sacre Coeur, and I stopped in front of a row of votives. My wish for my future daughter, for myself: Courage. The strength to take up a task when it presents itself, and to pursue it despite obstacle and ridicule, failure and fear. I lit a candle there, and prayed for the child that rolled and twisted inside me: Please, let her be brave.
The second to last day, at Notre Dame, I did the same. In the shadow of the stained glass, beneath the stones as old as the city, at the shrine of Joan of Arc, I prayed for her future, for health strength love joy power, for the saints and angels to watch over her, in whatever form they took.
I am not a good Catholic. I am a practicing one, in that I make attempts, motions, that often feel clumsy and false and out of tune. I stumble over the words of childhood prayers and forget the Holy Days of Obligation and joke that Jesus and I are fine but His friends are another matter. My husband and I did not attend Mass in Paris. We were going to the churches as tourists, not faithful.
But I lit candles at every single one.
It felt fraudulent. Notre Dame was not my parish, and I was barely its parishioners’ co-religionist. It was presumptuous, and likely foolish too. But if there is a place for presumptive fools, it is the Church, and we are all unworthy at its table. If it does nothing, I told myself, if it’s only light, there are worse things than light.
Today Kick ran home from school, healthy and strong and brave and joyous. The sanctuary where I prayed for all those things is ash. The candles would have guttered out an hour or two after we left, but I have thought of them every day since, knowing nothing but that what I prayed for came true, whether through my prayers in that place or not.
Our children are brave, though the world is burning, the irreplaceable places crumbling into dust. They aren’t ours, except that we pass through them and leave our prayers behind.