Roadside reminders

Photos and story by Wesley Harris

“There’s a cross on the side of the road
Where a mother lost a son
How could she know that the morning he left
Would be their last time 

She’d trade with him for a little more time
So she could say she loved him one more time”
     -Lyrics from “We Live” by Superchick

Roadside markers denoting the sites of tragic deaths are a relatively new cultural phenomenon. They signify the deep human need to memorialize the death of loved ones. While the components of a memorial are usually rather simple—crosses, flowers, stuffed animals—they can be quite symbolic: a bicycle marking the place where a dedicated cyclist was killed; American flags and red, white and blue bunting denoting the site where a veteran died. The builders of these memorials seek to honor the lost one and ease the searing pain haunting those left behind.  

Some markers are simple white crosses. Others are rather elaborate shrines where friends and family have deposited tokens of remembrance. While transportation officials in many states have discouraged roadside memorials as distractions to motorists and directed their removal, roadway workers in the field rarely disturb the sites. No one wishes to add to a family’s grief by hauling off a hand-lettered cross or a bundle of teddy bears.  

With the proliferation of these memorials, one can travel but a few miles on any highway without passing one. They remind us that life is fleeting, and death rarely announces its approach. Our days are numbered but who knows God’s mysterious calculations? We can only live in the moment. As the lyrics from “We Live” remind us:

     ”We live we love
     We forgive and never give up
     ‘Cause the days we are given are gifts from above
     Today we remember to live and to love.”

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