Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hallowing Ground

On my way into work, I drive winding country roads that take me past the cemetery at Gettysburg. Along those roads, I am finding more and more makeshift memorials marking the places people have died in traffic accidents. Thinking about them, they seem strange.

Presumably, those who tragically lost their lives at those places are buried not too far away. There is a grave where the body has its last resting place. This is a place for the deceased's loved ones to come and memorialize the full person, to remember who they were and what they did. The grave is a reminder of the life, the spot on the road is nothing but a reminder of the death. The grave is a tribute to all the days, whereas the spot on the side of the road only represents one horrible moment.

In the case of Gettysburg it makes more sense as the deaths were part of a struggle to define and defend a nation. I understand why the battlefield is considered sacred ground as a result of the loss of life because that loss was a sacrifice to a cause. The people who died there were committed to something larger and that cause and their contribution combine to make the place special.

But that is not the case with the sad, unfortunate spot along the road. The death itself does distinguish a point that otherwise seems just like those a hundred yards up or back. It is no longer just a place, but the place where someone loved ceased to be. But it seems odd to memorialize that place in addition to or instead of focusing on memorializing the person. It memorializes what happened accidentally in taking the person away, not everything else that was done intentionally in the years before and that seems to be what it is we would want to remember and celebrate; what they gave us, not simply focusing on the loss.