Thursday, November 22, 2012

Be thankful we don’t need highway memorial for ourselves – not yet anyway

Those roadside memorials erected by families who don’t want their lost loved ones to be forgotten always manage to capture my attention.

Not so much because they remind me of the fact that someone was killed (usually in an auto accident) at whatever particular spot is marked. But because of the amount of effort it takes to maintain such a spot.

BECAUSE IF ONE just erects a cross and a couple of pictures, the whole thing quickly collapses into junk. That causes local officials to dismiss the whole spectacle as a road hazard, and they come along and turn the whole thing into trash!

That is an idea that bothers the people who erect those memorials – who’d like to think their efforts are permanent.

Which is why my attention was captured by a Chicago Tribune story published Wednesday about Cook County government’s efforts to help these people.

For it seems that the county Highway Department will erect permanent markers that include a name and date of the person being paid tribute to, along with a message telling people “Please Don’t Drink and Drive.”

I’M SURE SOME people are going to think these blue signs with white lettering are rather generic and impersonal. We won’t get the collections of photographs of the deceased that some of these home-made memorials consist of. We won’t get the personal messages from loved ones left at the scene.

Yet there is the touch of permanence (or at least as permanent as any road sign can ever be) from these new county-installed memorial signs. The fact that they won’t deteriorate into a pile of junk does help enhance the overall appearance (even though they eventually will turn to rust, due to exposure to the Midwestern weather elements).

Unless one is willing to keep paying the county a fee – in which case, the sign will be replaced every couple of years.

That is, assuming the accident victim you want tribute paid to was killed along a county-maintained road. Although it seems the Illinois Department of Transportation has a similar program that was the inspiration for the county effort.

IT WILL BE interesting to see how many people actually take advantage of this new program. A part of me wonders if we’ll get some people who will persist in trying to put up their own home-made memorials rather than pay county government a fee.

Even if that fee is miniscule enough that no one’s going to be able to balance the county budget on the money raised from such memorial signs.

Will we get some people taking on a hard-line attitude? And will we now have government officials figuring that these officially-recognized tributes reduce the home-made tributes to the level of litter – so we’re going to start seeing them torn down at a moment’s notice?

Although I have to admit I don’t think it will make much difference as far as I’m concerned.

BECAUSE THE SENTIMENT I experience whenever I see one of these home-made memorials is to be reminded that life can end at a moment’s notice. There usually isn’t much in the way of warning.

I could die while writing this commentary. Or I could last for another 40 or so years. I should try my hardest to make the most of my life while I still have it.

And the fact that I still “have it” is what I am thankful for on this Thanksgiving holiday. That, and the fact that nobody in my surviving family has had to think about trying to erect such a memorial in my name.


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