Touched by the flames of Notre Dame

Veronika Benson

Sometimes, the mere busy-ness of our lives is enough to distance us from tragedies akin to what took place in Sri Lanka on Easter, or the recent fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. Yet the tendrils of these events often reach far and wide, touching the lives of people closer than we might ever have imagined.

Rappahannock resident Louise Goddard was on a train from Paris to Provence when she first heard about the fire at Notre Dame. She had just traveled to Paris with family members to see her granddaughter, Tess, perform with the renowned Santa Monica Choir. Teacher Jeffe Huls directs this choir which was featured in the 2016 movie, “Big Voice”.

The Santa Monica Choir performs at the Notre Dame Cathedral three days before tragedy struck the world’s medieval treasure. Courtesy photo

This California connection began with Louise and her late husband. She was an actress in Los Angeles when she met Benjamin Goddard, a globally-recognized political consultant and strategist. Although Ben was a soft-spoken man, he was a savvy entrepreneur admired for both his intellect and persuasive manner.

Case in point, back in 1996, Ben succeeded in convincing a highly independent Louise to marry him when he proposed at a hotel in Paris. And needless to say, her first trip back to that same restaurant evoked poignant memories of Ben, who died last June.

One of the continuing joys in Louise’s life is 18-year-old Tess, the daughter of Ben’s oldest son, Aaron. Tess, an accomplished young woman of many talents, sings with the Santa Monica Choir. And just days ago the group traveled to France to perform at the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Their engagement took place on Friday, April 12, a mere three days before flames devoured the cathedral’s latticework roof, ultimately toppling the iconic spire. Tess’s group may have been the last choir to perform in the resplendent cathedral before the fire.

Thankfully, the Goddard family all returned home safely this week. Among the photos Louise shared are those of the youthful chorus rejoicing in a chapel filled with ethereal light; as well as surreal images of daylight streaming in through the gaping hole where the Cathedral’s spire once gestured toward the heavens.

Unlike the less fortunate victims of terrorism in Sri Lanka, the Goddards’ lives were not endangered; nevertheless their lives were forever changed by what took place on Ile de la Cite in Paris. The story of this tragic fire has now permeated the history of a local family, and the story of Louise and Tess’s experience will no doubt be told through the generations.

Benson is a writer who lives in Little Washington

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