“We say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say this we think of that hour as situated in an obscure and distant future. It does not occur to us that it can have any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.” ~ Marcel Proust
“Americans take an average of four car trips every day—that’s more than 1,400 per year. It’s no wonder that the chance of dying while inside a moving vehicle is about 1 in 6,700. Car crashes are the leading cause of death in teenagers, and second leading cause of death in all other populations. Without a doubt, driving is risky business.” (Source: NTSB Safety Compass)
Having been a professional truck driver for over 25 years, I’ve seen more than my fair share of accidents, injuries, deaths, and roadside memorials.
I’ve always been aware of the fleeting nature of life. I was never one of those teens who thought he was invincible. I’ve always thought I could die at any moment. Considering all I’ve been though in life, and the many times I’ve nearly been killed, I’m amazed I’m still here.
Roadside memorials, when we see them, are a reminder of just how fleeting life is. We can be driving down the highway one minute and dead the next.
I was once driving on Interstate 30 in Arkansas, in my car, when a tractor-trailer came across the median, missed me, and killed a guy who was driving behind me. You can’t imagine how fast it happened. Had I been the one hit by the truck, I may have just barely had time to realize what was happening. In fact, when I first noticed the truck in the median, coming towards me, my only thought was “Something’s wrong with this picture”. By then the truck was already on my side of the road, passing me. I looked in my mirror and saw it hit the car behind me, pulled over, stopped, and went back to see if anyone was hurt.
It was obvious when I walked back to the accident scene that the driver of the car was dead. Soon the fire and police arrived. After the police had talked to the truck driver, I was, I think, the only other person who bothered talking to the driver of the truck. I told him not to be too hard on himself in the future, when he thought about the accident. That everyone knew it was an accident. And that, if he could, he would have done things differently.
I remember looking at the guy who was killed, and noticing he was wearing a wristwatch. I thought to myself “He had no idea this morning, when he put that watch on his wrist, that today would be the day he died.”
I’ve seen other people killed on the highway, talked to other drivers who have been responsible for another driver’s death, and I’ve prayed countless prayers and shed countless tears for fellow travelers I didn’t know.
The highway, like death, is a place were everyone is equal. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, black or white, Christian or agnostic. Everyone is at risk of being killed in a moment of time.
I’ve comforted a stranger in the middle of the interstate, in the early morning hours before dawn, at that sacred place and time when the spirits of their loved ones have left this world while their bodes remained in the wreckage of their car.
That place of sudden, unexpected death on the road is where friends and loved ones will sometimes create a roadside memorial, in memory of the deceased. I think these memorials are good ideas. The place where someone is killed becomes, to me, a sacred place. The time when someone dies is a sacred moment. And that’s what roadside memorial are designed to remember: the place and moment someone left this world.
Below are links to books, videos, and webpages related to the subject of roadside memorials…
“A mother is asking for the community’s help to find her daughter’s missing memorial that was recently taken from where she died more than two years ago…” Mother wants missing roadside memorial returned https://youtu.be/d2zKH8BCOzs
“3,089 people were killed on Texas roads in 2009. Family members sometimes erect memorials at the locations of these accidents. East Texans share their loss and how the cope with a loved-one who is no longer with them…” Along The Roadside: Street Memorials In East Texas https://youtu.be/ABW8F1nkA3Q
“Holly Everett documents over thirty-five memorial sites with twenty-five photographs representing the wide range of creativity. Examining the complex interplay of politics, culture, and belief, she emphasizes the importance of religious expression in everyday life and analyzes responses to death that this tradition. Roadside crosses are a meeting place for communication, remembrance, and reflection, embodying on-going relationships between the living and the dead. They are a bridge between personal and communal pain—and one of the oldest forms of memorial culture…” Roadside Crosses in Contemporary Memorial Culture https://www.amazon.com/Roadside-Crosses-Contemporary-Memorial-Culture/dp/1574411500
“American roadsides are home to a vast range of impromptu memorials, some anonymous and modest crosses at the scene of a tragedy and others elaborate and well-maintained commemorations. Most of the markers on the shoulders of American streets commemorate the victims of an automobile accident, but there seem to be no especially systematic surveys of the geographical distribution, styles, composition, or duration of such markers…” Spontaneous Mourning and Material Culture: The Archaeology of Roadside Memorials https://paulmullins.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/spontaneous-mourning-and-material-culture-the-archaeology-of-roadside-memorials/
“The author of a new book on roadside memorials says British Columbia has more than its share of street-side shrines and predicts that number will continue to grow. Dr. John Belshaw co-authored the book Private Grief, Public Mourning along with his wife Diane Purvey…” Author pens book on roadside memorials https://youtu.be/VaFkdnELh38
“With vivid images of a variety of different shrines and monuments built across BC, this book helps to delve into the human emotion of grief and why taking it into a public space can provide such comfort to one mourning individual and such discomfort to others…” Private Grief, Public Mourning: The Rise of the Roadside Shrine in British Columbia… https://www.amazon.com/Private-Grief-Public-Mourning-Roadside/dp/189563699X
“Resting Places” is a documentary film about roadside memorials and the controversy that surrounds them… http://webpages.charter.net/dnance/whatever/kc-main.htm
Descansos: Roadside Memorials on the American Highway… http://webpages.charter.net/dnance/descansos/index-thum.htm
Roadside memorials give a public face to private grief… Journey Interrupted https://youtu.be/oLCOTVOgcC0
“A ghost bike (also referred to as a ghostcycle or WhiteCycle) is a bicycle roadside memorial, placed where a cyclist has been killed or severely injured, usually by a motor vehicle…” Ghost bike https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghost_bike
What Is A Ghost Bike? https://youtu.be/BoI3ji8-jg0