While traveling in the Southwest nearly fifteen years ago something along the roadsides caught my eye. At scattered sites along hundreds of miles of roads there were rude crosses planted next to the pavement, sometimes with a spray of flowers twined around them, or a votive candle beside it. I had my suspicions, but eventually asked a clerk or a waitress, and they confirmed that what I observed was a Hispanic tradition of marking the place where a loved-one died in an automobile wreck.
I live in the Northeast, and over the intervening years the phenomena has spread; in my little county I have seen dozens of such memorials, ranging from a cross and a yellow ribbon tied to a twisted guardrail, to elaborate shrines constructed from planter boxes with flowers, flags, candelabras, and tapestries stretched between trees depicting NASCAR-martyr Dale Earnhardt and his car (presumably the deceased was a fan).
But, beyond the ostentation of some of these displays, I am disturbed by the rituals that I have noted over several years’ of observation. Helium-filled mylar balloons bob from the end of bright ribbons proclaiming “Happy Father’s Day!” I have seen cards tacked to poles, “Happy Birthday!” and “On Our Anniversary.” Fresh flowers, and someone stopped by to LIGHT the candles. I just consider these morbid; isn’t this where people DIED in sudden mechanical impacts? Don’t you have graves, or urns, at which to solemnize your lost companion?
Why do they want to remember a painful termination year after year after year?
One can only imagine a spirit suddenly manifested next to the broken and torn corpse that used to be its living shell, and the disorientation it might feel. No gentle transition after preparations to ‘meet one’s Maker.’ The Tibetan Book of the Dead consists of prayers that the living recite for a week to help the newly deceased break free of the bonds of Earthly existence. I can only expect that ritual gatherings at these altars to death would have the opposite action, of SUMMONING the spirits back to the site of their final, mortal suffering. This is a Black Magic known as NECROMANCY, and it is EVIL! It is with good reason that the Navaho take their dying outside for their leave-taking from life, and abandon houses in which their loved ones have died. These are haunted places that can corrupt a living soul.
I remember a snippet of a poem or a hymn that went something like “He is not here, he did not die,” although a quick Google returned nothing that I recognized, but I approve of the sentiment. When we slip the leash of mortality, our spirit should cast free and sail bright eternity! Or, as Bob Dylan put it, “If dogs run free, why can’t we?”
Keep memorials in the heart and mind, where they belong.