Gero-Punk Tribute: Notre Dame

notre dame

The first time I saw her I was the age my daughter Isobel is now – 23. I was recently married to her father and it was my first time traveling abroad.  What I remember from that first visit was how I felt the moment I entered the Notre Dame Cathedral: disoriented and awe-struck.   I had never until then encountered a human creation that had lived for so long: more than eight centuries! Her oldness was new to me; the quality of the light, the way sounds reverberated, the smoke of the candles – the wind was knocked out of me.

I had an intense crush on Saint Joan of Arc (though I don’t remember when I first encountered her) and I wanted to be sure to find her memorial. I wasn’t a Catholic, never have been, but if I were, Joan would be my favorite saint, and not because she’s the patron saint of soldiers, but because she was misunderstood and disregarded (vast understatement) when a young girl, accused of being unhinged and ignorant, but eventually – alas, much after her death – honored for the badass girl that she was.

I lit a candle to Saint Joan of Arc and said a prayer, though the words I prayed I do not remember.


This past November 8, 2018 I visited them both again – the Notre Dame Cathedral and Saint Joan. I had traveled to Paris to spend a few days with my daughter. On my last day there I ventured off on an adventure while Isobel was attending a graduate school class.

I arrived at the cathedral just in time to attend the end of mass – the holy communion was just about to commence.  I wanted to sit close-up to where the priest was, so I could hear, smell, and see everything.  I decided out of propriety and respect to sit at the front edge of the section for visitors not partaking in the body and blood of Christ. I took my appropriate seat and engaged in meditation in the spiritual tradition I now follow.

Since the time I was a girl, I’ve been “saved” a few times, twice by Jesus and at least once by myself (with the help of others). I actually really dig taking communion, I’m a sucker for rituals, but I’ve only ever partaken as a Protestant. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a strange one: I respect and fight for others’ religious beliefs and practices (as long as they ultimately lead to peace and love); and I’m irreverent and don’t willingly nor uncritically abide by any tradition be it religious, philosophical or otherwise.  And, since the time I was a little girl, I’ve been a spiritual seeker. No religion has been off-limits to my insatiable curiosity! But that, my friends, is an epic story for another time!

Once communion and my meditation session were over, I mused a while longer in the cathedral, absorbing her ancient air: candles, incense, the essence of all the humans of earth who have visited.  Above me arrayed on either side of the vast nave were the flags of various nations. I was perplexed: Are these flags meant to symbolize the friends of France? The friends of the Church?

I recall that as I was entering the cathedral, I saw a news alert on my fancy-pants phone: There had just been another mass shooting in the U.S., in Thousand Oaks, California.

Before I leave her, Notre Dame, I light a candle to Joan of Arc.


Once I step outside her, I receive the following text:

P: “Thinking of you and thanking God for you…in the midst of numerous transitions.”

I reply: “I was thinking of you just now as I attended mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral!  I was thinking of you as I witnessed the mass which I couldn’t fully participate in and then when I lit the cancel to Joan of Arc, I was thinking about how my “religion” can’t be contained. Which is also how I came to be thinking about you, because your “religion” can’t be contained either.  And then, of course, because I was thinking of you, you texted me (or perhaps you were thinking of me, and I texted you).”

P: “Follow the religion of love wherever love’s carriage goes…how can love be contained?”

I reply: “Love cannot.”




About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past twenty (or more!) years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and inter-generational friendships and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (now in its 10th edition!) and first author, also with Moody, of the recently published Gerontology: The Basics, as well as author/co-author of several book chapters, articles and essays. I am on the Portland Community College Gerontology Program faculty.
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4 Responses to Gero-Punk Tribute: Notre Dame

  1. Susie says:

    This is beautifully written and mimics my experience 3 years ago while visiting Notre Dame. I felt a mystical and spiritual quickening in my soul.
    I lit 2 for my Mama and one for my Daddy.
    The Sun was shining through The rose Window and the Organ began to play. Mass had started.

  2. Rosalie McDougall says:

    Beautiful. Sad sad day. I cannot imagine how France and all her people around the world – regardless of their religious affiliation – are reeling right now.

  3. Erica says:

    I love to visit churches to feel the calm and smell the particular mix of wood and incense and as you put it, “essence of all the humans”. The moment I step inside I feel simultaneously insignificant and magnificent. There are so few places that can hold as much history and offer as much comfort and protection as Our Lady. My visit there as a 20-year-old is a moment I’ve always held in my heart. May her restoration be something we celebrate in our lifetime!

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