Essay on public reaction to death.
|Don't Build a Shrine 5/29/05
In the midst of horrific tragedy, something incongruous happens.
A pair of children decided to cross the road during a busy rush hour. The little brother was supposed to wait on the sidewalk until the older sister got back, but he darted out into traffic to follow her. He was hit and killed.
In this small town, the word spread like wildfire. Within hours, it began. Right by the signpost where he was killed, a teddy bear was propped up. Soon beautiful flowers were spread around the post. Ribbons were tied around the post, trailing over and around. A t-shirt hung limply over the sign, drooping down over the flowers.
More and more stuffed animals appeared, a conclave of faux fur watching traffic roll by. While the child's body lay in a morgue, pending an investigation, the shrine grew. People came to the shrine, looked at the collection and added their own memento.
As evening approached, candles appeared. Flickering and glowing, they eerily lit the faces of the stuffed creatures gathered. Neighborhood children came to see the spectacle of lights and ran madly through the grass chasing fireflies.
The sunrise found the pile growing higher as the parents made plans for their son's burial. As parents chose where their child's mortal body would rest, people gathered to shake their heads and gossip near the shrine; to add their own experience to the drama, to share in the tragedy.
What does that place signify? The place a little child suffered horrific pain? The place where the soul left the body? The place where someone was shouldered with a lifetime of guilt? The place where a community lost a little member? Does this place signify anything good? What is the purpose of building a shrine there?
If I die in such a place, do not build a shrine. I don't want to celebrate the place I left my earthly form. I don't want a ridiculous public display of material crap. No ribbons, no flowers, no messages. Don't remember me at the place I suffered and died.
Remember the last time we laughed together. Remember the time you saw me smile. Remember the day you let me cry on your shoulder or celebrated joy with you. Remember a hug.
Don't build a shrine for me.