Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Shrine for a Stranger

You know how every once in a while you’ll see a little memorial shrine set up by the side of the road for someone who had died there? Crosses, wreaths, candles, teddy bears. Respectfully, I find these iconic altars curious. I’m not the type of person who is drawn to return to a geographical location of death or burial. For my own personal self, it's too morbid. I prefer to remember my loved ones the way they were in my life, not by visiting a quiet piece of land where their bones lie six feet below my feet, nor the place where their blood once spilled, carrying their soul - the part I loved - out with it. But everyone deals with loss differently.

There’s a little shopping area near my office. Very typical – containing a market, nail salon, Chinese restaurant, candy store, bowling alley … things like that. There are several entrances into the shopping area from the surrounding main roads. On one of these entrances, in the little island of land moated by curbs separating incoming and outgoing lanes, is one of these memorials.

The adornments circulate and vary. There are usually flowers. Sometimes action figures. Often an assumedly handmade wooden cross. Occasionally written items are tacked to the tree (letters, poems, lyrics?) in protector sheets. Now and then a picture will be there. 8x10, a young man with chestnut hair and a groomed beard. Once I saw a pizza left there, from a shop located in another area of town, carefully placed as if to share. I assume it was his favorite. This morning someone had lit a candle. The kind that comes in a tall thin glass jar featuring a screenprint of Madonna and Child. The wax was yellow. Despite the wind and misty rain, the flame burned strongly.

What happened there? Was he in a car accident? Was he in a fight? Shot? Stabbed? Did he simply trip and crack his head on the curb?

Who tends to this site? His significant other? His family? His friends? Does only one person return and return to keep the point of his last moments on earth marked, or do hoards of those who loved him circulate by?

I’ve been at my present company for going on 8 years, and often run to this shopping center for errands on my way to or from work. I use that entrance frequently as it is less traveled. And always, this shrine has been tended. I’ve never seen anyone there, but clearly it is visited and kept up. Someone, be it one or many, has kept that man’s memorial freshened up and its adornments rotated for at least 8 years now, and possibly longer. I find myself struggling to remember something about this person whom I’d never met. A person who, regardless of that fact, was clearly loved in life and missed in death. So much so that this humble makeshift site of remembrance is never neglected to this day.

I suppose that’s the purpose. To ensure that this life is remembered, even if there are no memories. To cause others, even complete strangers, to pause and wonder – and remember even abstractly that he was ... that he just was.

I never knew him, but I doubt I’ll ever forget him either.

14 comments:

Anonymous Assclown said...

Makes you wonder about the profound impact he must have made on at least one person's life to keep it going for so long. And why the caretaker still feels so compelled after all this time to try to keep them as part of their life. Why the don't want to let go.
I've seen the roadside crosses and I've always felt they served as a stark reminder about the dangers of drunk/careless driving more than they were a shrine to the dead. More of a warning to the living.
But yours is different. It been there 8+ years. Really makes me wonder as well.

TC said...

Wow. what a profound post. It truly does make you wonder about the person who died and what an impact their life and death had on someone.

naive-no-more said...

I, too, have seen similar memorials carefully attended in my area. Some of the victims have been known, others remain strangers. Only one I can remember as having the longevity in which you talk about. The rest fade and wither under the ever changing elements.

Someone must have truly loved this boy to take such care in keeping his spirit alive.

Thought provoking post, sis.

Ruben said...

Look! you have got to give a person some advance notice of you are going to post something so touching and deep. It's only 3:19 pm and I'm just not ready to get all teary eyed without the assistance of some cheap booze and disco music.

Bill Scott, Sr. said...

Wow, I never thought much about that. I do know that every time we pass by a little shrine of that sort my wife prays for the families that suffered the loss. thank you for sharing this with me as I too want to be remembered as a man who loved God and brought everyone I know into his presence. I can only pray that if I leave any sort of legacy that it will be just that....."He brought peole to Jesus"

McSwain said...

Interesting--I read and commented on a post about the appropriate of this sort of thing here about a month ago. These memorials always serve as a reminder to me--to be careful when I drive, to mind how I'm living my life, and that our life here on earth is fleeting.

Seabiscuit said...

That is a wonderful piece you posted. Very thought provoking. Thanks.

Bougie Black Boy said...

Yeah these shrines are crazily creepy to me.

steelcowboy said...

Sometimes memories are all that some have to keep them going; and they try to keep those memories alive at all costs. Too, they may feel that they honor the fallen; we put up monuments to great men (I live outside Gettysburg, PA - lots of monuments); are we not all great in one way or another?

Rebecca said...

I have to tell you, that I sort of agree with Stephen... for a second, I feel sad that someone lost their life on that corner of the road; and then I feel creepy that they've memorialized it THERE. I prefer the memorials at the graveside.... Those make me feel, I don't know - closer to the person somehow - than the cross on the side of the road. It's hard to explain I guess...

ProfessorGQ said...

I have the same sentiments as you do in this post...

Lori said...

I, too, prefer to remember a person as he or she was in life. A cross to mark where that person died, to me, doesn't memorialize their life. However, I must admit that someone is very devoted, still, to this young man and the fact that he or she is never seen adds to the mystery. It does make you think and wonder about the impact that he must have made on this person who so clearly still cherishes him.

martie said...

It brings to mind one memorial to a teenage girl who was killed by a careless driver. The spot is in the front yard of a business in a close by city and the business, after seeing that there was a cross and flowers always present, purchased a stone of some sort and had it engraved and made it permanent. This girls parents visit frequently and the local paper had an article about it.

It does make one wonder though!

badthoughts said...

To the families, those memorials may help them heal knowing others are driving more safely after seeing them. Several other people already mentioned it, but I also drive much more carefully whenever I see one of those.

The loss of their loved one is permanent. But if they can save just one life by placing the memorial, they have saved an entire other family from grief..