Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Souls of the Departed

I drive past it six days a week on my way to the office. Yet I must confess that it had slipped my mind that the anniversary of the tragedy that caused the family and friends (or some combination thereof) to erect a roadside memorial adjacent to the westbound lanes of Route 22 in Bridgewater was upon us. Perhaps it is less a reflection on the depth of my character - or lack thereof - than it is on the inevitability of life that I had forgotten that it was the 26th of June one year ago that a young girl from my little town died in a single-vehicle accident at the spot that those who loved her have preserved in her honor. Brenda was but one week or so removed from having walked with her classmates at graduation as a member of the Middlesex High School Class of '09.

I did not know her and to the best of my knowledge I do not know her family. Yet I have for the past year driven past the pitch-perfect memorial that has been placed at the site of her accident. I have marveled about its staying power. I did not think - one year ago - that it would last in that location as long as it has. Not only has it lasted but it certainly appears to be in excellent condition. Those who loved her apparently tend to it with love.

I commute to work at a time that is a chess piece in a perpetual custody battle between "late night" and the "wee small hours of the morning" so I never see anyone at the memorial. Last night though, because I had spent Saturday morning taking part in a 8K race in Lavallette New Jersey and I had spent Saturday afternoon rooting hard for the valiant but ultimately unsuccessful U.S. Soccer Team in the World Cup, I spent Saturday night at the office. Oh, 'tis an exciting life I lead I know.

By heading west on Route 22 at 5:00 PM as opposed to 4:00 AM I saw a small gathering of people standing on the shoulder of the westbound lanes of travel paying their respects to Brenda. It was a site that I must confess I usually associate with cemeteries. I passed by them in only a few seconds so I know not how long prior to my passing by they had gathered there. I know not how long they remained. I know not whether they were joined by others. I know not whether others came by at different times during a day that is etched in sadness on the calendar each of them carries in his or her heart to pay their respects.

I know simply that I am happy for those who erected the roadside memorial to Brenda that it has remained intact for this terrible year. If life tilted more towards the fundamental fairness side than the memorial would be unnecessary. Little girls who are all of 18 years old are supposed to be planning for their future. They are not supposed to die in automobile accidents.

Life is often far from fair. Thus those who are too young to die do so anyway. And those of us who are charged with the joy and the responsibility of raising them are forced to confront a fear that - if we are speaking truthfully - scares the hell out of us unlike any other: the fear that we shall outlive our child. It happens. Perhaps it should not. But it does. And when it does, it is nice that those who shared a common bond - the love for a young woman who they miss so terribly - have a place to congregate and to come together and express their love for her and their support for one another. If sing-along songs can be our scriptures, then there is absolutely no reason why the grassy hill adjacent to the westbound lanes of Route 22 in Bridgewater cannot serve as a cathedral.

And allow those present to say a prayer. A prayer on behalf of brokenhearted babies everywhere.

-AK

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