About a block away from where my children used to have day care is a post that flashes a crossing warning for school kids. It’s not normally something that would capture my attention but I noticed it the first time when I dropped my kids off at daycare. The post was covered with plastic flowers, ribbons, photos, small toys and teddy bears piled up at its base. About four feet up was a piece of cardboard about 2 foot square with a picture of a young girl, dark hair with a slight wave and black eyes shining with the glee of being, her broad grin both loving and mischievous, a missing tooth telling the world she was probably in first or second grade.
Scrawled around her photo in a deliberate, pained script were phrases of love and sorrow, beliefs of a better world and the certainty of an ache that would never go away. One cold morning, the horizon tinged with scattered hues of autumn, I stood reading those words, tracing the outline of her face with my fingertip as I gently wiped the grime of traffic from her photo. I could not touch her, my fingers merely moving across the projection of what she had been and what her family wanted me to know of her, a stranger passing by and taking the time to hear their lament. The story was clear and sad in that rarified fall air. I could not touch her but she and her family had touched me.
Months later, the post was clear, everything stripped away so that only cold steel reflected the colors of passing cars rushing into lives indifferent to what had been there before. City workers, I thought, ordered by some mindless bureaucrat to “beautify” an otherwise ugly strip of pavement where drivers blazed by with single-minded intention and kids crossed in peril. My sadness grew; not just that the memorial had been taken down (and for no good reason, I thought) but with the thought that she was now forgotten as life marched relentlessly, heartlessly along.
Today I was supposed to go visit the grave of my son who passed ten years ago but unfortunately, my head was down and I was swimming upstream, fighting mindless bureaucracies, driving with single-minded intention, heedless of love or lament or plastic flowers laid out to remind me of my own ache. It’s not that I had forgotten (not a day goes by when I don’t think of him) but I was too busy rushing headlong into every challenge that presented itself. Every time I hit the canvas, I got up for more, bloodied but resolute, angrier and more determined. The fire in my gut told me that I would end up victorious and in some ways, I had. Unfortunately, that fire took what I needed to sustain in my heart. Fighting made me as ugly as the boulevard that cannot sustain the memory of a life cut too short or families who bother to build a monument to love.
Rekindling the spark in my heart, I’m reminded that my own memorial does not reside on (or in) a post, or in a graveyard. Three beautiful children I’ve raised, the love that I offer to MBS and her three beautiful children, his spirit, love; his spirit thrives. Indeed, it's that energy that commands me to share the abundance, his legacy, not the stone in the ground, the bit of cardboard that says nothing and everything.
That and then sharing even more with MBS and her three beautiful children is as good as any pyramid or a cathedral. Noble taught me many things, the most important being that I need to stop and read at those places where teddy bears have been piled up and plastic flowers have been sewn lovingly into the fabric of a painful memory, that there are many more important things than to answer each petty battle with a flint face. He taught me that the fire in my gut diminishes the light in my heart and for that, he will always be loved; he will always give me pause and require me to stop and stand on the side of a road to weep.
About a week ago, I noticed that the pole had been done up again. Fortunately, for the same girl. The fire in my heart blazed as I considered how a family had taken their own fire and turned the decree of one more heartless bureaucrat into fuel for their hearts. Good for them, I thought, and my mind turned from where I was going to where I had been. I was no longer driving by with my own mindless, heartless direction but set on a path that did not ask me to fight or react out of anger but just do what needed to be done, accumulate teddy bears and plastic flowers and place them all where all could see that my love would overcome the need to fight. I miss my Noble so much (and such an aptly named child!) and tomorrow, 10 years and a day after I last held him in my arms, I will stop on the side of the road and weep.