Memorials stand posted along a number of our country’s roads and interstates – the Officer Dave Chetcuti Memorial Highway sign in Millbrae, California and the Ofc James Fezatte Memorial Highway in Alabama, to name just two – to honor and commemorate public servants who have died on those stretches of road in the course of their service to the rest of us. The vast majority of those who see these signs may never know who Officer Chicuti or Officer Fezatte or any of the others was. What may stick in some people’s heads is the idea that someone died in this place – someone with a name; someone who loved and was loved in return; someone who lived with a purpose and died because of it. That road, that stretch of highway then becomes not just a space to be traversed as quickly as possible so as to get somewhere else a little sooner, but a place where we may remember that lives are easily lost. And the holes that take their place will long remain.
In my latest hometown out here on Long Island there stands a memorial outside the Fire Department; a ten-foot pillar of rust-brown steel, fronted by a block of marble and a heavy bronze plaque. Dedicated to honor and remember those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. And there are, we can believe, dozens of similar places of remembrance in place, maybe hundreds, all over the New York City area, names of lost loved ones etched in stone or bronze or stainless steel so that we may always be reminded of the precious value of life and what, in our hearts, the values of life are.
And I’ve noticed, as I pedal my bike around town, an additional form of memorial. Names of loved ones lost, spelled out in green lettering on a white background, both blending and contrasting with the street signs they rest on, looking out over the streets where they lived. To me this is more than remembering the loss of a neighbor, a familiar face, a friend. When I ride by one of these signs I look down the street, not knowing the person whose name I see, not knowing where they lived, but extremely mindful of the fact that, for quite a while now, this street, these people, one of the families in one of the houses in front of me, has been without one of its own for more than twelve years now.
Not knowing who the person was, not knowing who loved them, I find myself treating a little more kindly those I do see on the street – those who remain, along with the hole where someone once lived.