Friday, March 14, 2008

Monuments To Stupidity

Roadside tombstone with inscription - Wild Man Jones, 04/01/2007.  He will be missed. Sorry about the 3 kids in the mini-van he hit. He really wasn't a bad driver when he was sober. The shoulders of highways in my area are becoming littered with shrines to people killed in traffic accidents. Aren't many of these monuments to stupidity? Either the stupidity of the person killed or a victim of the stupidity of another driver?

I have sympathy for the person killed through no fault of their own, such as a passenger in a car hit by a drunk driver, but I'm not in favor of a roadside shrine for them. And what about the person whose bad behaviour caused the crash and died? Does their stupidity and/or bad driving deserve a monument?

Maybe we should have a way to indicate if the person memorialized was a victim or a perpetrator. Maybe a white flag for a victim and a red flag for a perpetrator. Or maybe shrines to victims can have candles or lights and perpetrators can't. If you caused your own death and maybe the death of someone else, you can't advertise at night.

Some of these monuments can be large and garish. If you have an accident because you were distracted by a garish monument for a previous accident victim, are you a victim or just stupid? I wonder if you can sue.

Should monument construction guidelines be driven by an apportioning of blame, like insurance claims? Maybe the victim should take a 25% share of the blame for their own death because they were talking on their cell phone and didn't notice the on-coming car swerving into their lane. The blame flags can have red and white panels sized proportionally to the persons share of blame for their death.

And why do we call these "accidents" when so many are the result of lack of skills or bad judgement? Too many people want to be the fastest driver on the road rather than the safest.

What is the protocol and etiquette of monument building? On a dangerous corner where many accident's have occurred, do earlier victims have squatters rights and later victims have their monuments erected nearby with arrows to show the actual location of denouement?

When an accident takes the life of both the perpetrator and victims, do victims receive a preference for the location of their shrine based on the percentage of blame they were assigned? Come to think of it, is it really appropriate for the family of a perpetrator to erect a memorial if other people were killed or injured?

Is it ever appropriate for a victim's family to trash a perpetrator's memorial? Possibly as way to find closure (a much overused concept these days).

A corner of an intersection I traverse on my daily commute has two crosses (presumably to accident victims/perpetrators, but I guess they could just be advertisements for the local churches). This corner was farm land that is being converted to a strip mall. I've been wondering what they are going to do with these monuments. Leave them alone? Tear them down? Rebuild them in an architectural style to match the mall? If monument builders are smart they'll get easements before they build anything elaborate.

At what point should memorials be taken down? I suppose these monuments are meant to honor the deceased. In that case, shouldn't you take care of them in perpetuity like tombstones? If you put them up to honor the deceased, what are you saying when you take them down? Are you saying you don't care any more? If you just let the monument decay from the elements, what does that say?

I first saw this monument trend 30 years ago when I lived in the southwest. Now it is a national movement. What is next, monuments in emergency rooms, hospital rooms and nursing homes? You can't have people tripping over monuments in the emergency rooms. How about using those walnut plaques with spaces to add names at later dates - like the ones used for employee of the month. These wouldn't take up much space and people could take comfort in knowing the place of their loved one's demise has been documented. Can you imagine buying a house and finding a brass marker in the living room noting the location of the passing of Uncle Stewart in 1985 after an overly rich Thanksgiving dinner?

As you can tell I think these roadside memorials are ridiculous. I understand the grief that motivates people to build them, but grief is an emotion that we all deal with at some point. Put up a garish headstone in the cemetery, keep pictures on the wall, but let's not clutter the shoulders of our highways. Show a little sympathy for the people who have to mow the roadside weeds.

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