When Alynne and I went to Tucson a couple of weeks ago, we went a different way than we had before. We took back roads, and two lanes, and lonely stretches of highway where we saw nothing for miles. And by nothing, I mean nothing. Not even a cow. I guess I did see a dead deer and a buzzard, but those aren’t terribly uplifting.
What I did see was crosses along the road. Dozens and dozens of roadside crosses and memorials. Some were simple- a small wooden cross, maybe painted white or maybe it was left to the elements. A few had flowers or a picture wrapped in a plastic bag. Some were elaborate with flowers and rosaries and pinwheels and ceramic figures. One even had a wrought iron bench. My initial reaction is to always say a quick prayer for the person represented by those crosses and their families left behind. Those crosses in the road symbolize a life, a love, a memory.
With each roadside cross, I wonder how many hundreds of lives, loves, and memories aren’t marked on the side of the highway. How many families quietly and painfully drive by a spot or their mom or uncle or son or cousin or favorite teacher took their last breath? How much pain is actually been felt or how many tears have been shed along those roads and highways? How much love is not represented by a cross on the roadside? How many “general areas” of loss are fading because someone can’t quite remember the exact location?
My life lost, my memories never made, happened along a stretch of K18, in Russell County, Kansas, about 3 miles east of Waldo. That roadside was littered with Reese’s peanut butter eggs and pansies the night of April 12, 2003. We cleaned it up a day or two later. When you drive by, you don’t know that’s where Mama died. Unless you know.
We didn’t create a memorial for her there. I thought about it. She would have hated it. She had friends drive by on their way to work every day. They remembered. Maybe the Highway Patrolman who talked to me, held my hands as I sobbed while he walked us through accident report, remembered when he drove by.
I remember. I’ve only driven that road, gone by that location one time in 15 years. One time since the day we went to look right after it happened. I don’t think I’ll go that way again. As I’m doing my “Farewell Kansas” tour, I probably won’t add that stop.
We don’t have a cross on the road for Mama. I wear hers around my neck every single day. I hold it when I need to feel her close. I rub it when I need to cry. I proudly tell people it was hers when they comment on my beautiful cross.
I always say a prayer when I see a roadside cross. I know that pain and longing. I respect the loss. The cross is so powerful. All of the time.