by Sister Chris Koellhoffer, IHM for January 31, 2016
We have probably all passed them, the makeshift roadside memorials placed at the side of a road where a fatal traffic accident has occurred. They stand as a testament to lives lost and to bereft friends and families marking a grief beyond words. We may have no idea what the accident was that claimed a life, when it took place, or who the person being memorialized was, though there may be a few clues in what stands there: perhaps a stuffed animal, a favorite color, balloons, a jersey once proudly worn. One thing is certain and universally felt: someone has died and someone is being remembered.
Some passersby may make the sign of the cross, sigh, or pray a silent prayer as they drive past the memorial. Some drivers may not even notice. When I drive by one of the memorials, I always mouth the same words, directed to the person who has died: “Bless you, and comfort those who love and miss you.”
There’s a roadside remembrance on Route 6 near Archbald, Pennsylvania. It’s a wooden angel on a post, and there are always flowers attached, sometimes changing with the seasons. This memorial is beginning to show the wear and tear of several years of enduring the intense cold and heavy snows of January and the blistering heat of August.
I’ve always been curious about who the person is to whom the memorial is dedicated, but the layout of the highways leaves no room to pull over, get out of the car, and pay a quiet visit. Every time I drive by, I wonder about the life lost and the people left behind. I wonder what the person’s final day was like as they moved through the ordinariness of it with no idea it would be their last on earth. It takes me back to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and the character of Emily Webb, who in the stage play has died and longs to revisit one day in her life, her 12th birthday. She ends up disappointed and seeing how few people treasure the dailiness of each moment. Emily cries out, “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you!” and she wonders aloud, “Does anyone truly understand the value of life while they live it?” “Saints and poets, perhaps,” she’s told.
Saint and poets. People who cultivate awareness and mindfulness. People who struggle to live in the present moment. People who savor the exquisite beauty of this planet and take nothing for granted. People who enter each day with a grateful heart.
People who remember that every moment is precious and fleeting, that all we really have is the now, and that every now is sacred.
In To Bless the Space Between Us, the late John O’Donohue offers a reflection, “At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions.” The questions are an examen a sorts, an invitation to look back on the day that’s coming to a close and to reflect on how we’ve been present. They echo Emily Webb’s question, “Does anyone truly understand the value of life while they live it?” You may want to use this Mirror of Questions to help you notice, truly notice, how you have been and how the Divine has been at work in your life on any given day.
At the end of your day, reflect on some of the questions offered by John O’Donohue:
What did I learn today?
What new thoughts visited me?
Whom did I neglect?
Where did I neglect myself?
What did I do today for the poor and excluded?
Where did my eyes linger?
Where was I blind?
Where did I allow myself to receive love?
From the evidence—why was I given this day?
2 thoughts on “Life Remembered”
I was gladdened to know that others know to use a roadside memorial as a call to prayer. The Archbald marker may be a memorial to a pedestrian and a driver killed there on 9/28/13.
Thank you for letting me know this, Kay. I pray for the person(s) who died at that site and for their loved ones every time I pass by. If you’re related to the persons who died, please accept my deepest sympathy and prayer for your loss.