Ancient History

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The subtle but sudden

Our route to school passes the scene of a lonely roadside death.

The road features subtle but sudden curves that catch the unfamiliar off-guard, especially at night. One school morning last spring, we approached a small fleet of police cars and a van with silent siren lights turning. A police officer was directing traffic. Nobody was allowed on the road. Turn around, he motioned. I drove the alternate route to school.

All day, I wondered what happened. By the time school was over, the scene was clear.

I searched the local news for answers. A man had been driving the road in the early hours of the morning. There were no witnesses, so nobody knew for sure, but he was most likely traveling at a high rate of speed. When he came upon the curve, he lost control of his car. He was ejected and his body landed far from where the car came to a rest. He died on the bank of a ditch, alone. Nobody discovered the accident for several hours. The road isn’t busy at night.

A few days later, there were flowers and silver balloons marking the spot of the death. The kids noticed. Mylar shines. That afternoon, on the trip home from school, we saw several people standing near the ditch, hugging, pointing, talking.

It has been around 6 months since the accident. Balloons and flowers still appear on the side of the road. Beatrix does not understand why they are there. When you are 4 and your eyes are trained to spot balloons and all things bright, the grassy patch where a man exited this life is something to look forward to on the mundane daily drive to fetch the big kids. Little girls in big vans are a captive, naive audience.

On ongoing party on the banks of a ditch?

The family of the deceased man is faithful. It must provide deep solace to visit the side of the ditch and place the marker. At this point, I can’t imagine the patch without some sort of tribute to the man who doesn’t seem like a stranger any more.

Now are seasonal orange and yellow flowers placed at the subtle but sudden curve.

Everyone places memorial markers. Mine aren’t mylar or crosses driven into the ground. They aren’t visible to commuters and children on their way to school. I don’t change them for the seasons or the holidays. There are countless ways to grieve.

And then it strikes me how lines of celebration and lamentation blend more often than it appears.

Aidan and I watched the first Chilean miner emerge from what he and his fellow miners called Hell. I cried when the weeping little boy ran to embrace his daddy. Fresh, cool air filled the miner’s lungs and stroked his face. Rescue at last.

What a beautiful day, built for flowers and silver shining balloons and crosses placed in thanksgiving. It’s for families lingering by the spot where one world is exited and another begins. It’s the sweet embrace.

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