Almost every day, I drive down a stretch of US Route 1 that runs through Northeast Philadelphia, where it widens into a 12-lane corridor known as the Roosevelt Boulevard, or simply “the Boulevard.”
With its local and express lanes, crossovers, medians and intersections, the highway makes for an unnerving ride. Impatient drivers swerve through traffic; some race each other for short stretches. Pedestrians from nearby houses scramble to cross the road at and between intersections. For those behind the wheel and those on foot, the Boulevard can be deadly: last year, 21 fatal crashes occurred along its 14 bewildering miles.
Roadside memorials mark several of these tragic sites, and one in particular has come to haunt me — a simple cross planted on a center median, with the inscription “Jesus, remember me.” Many times, I’ve found myself gazing at those words as I wait for the light to change, wondering about the person whose life ended on that spot. Whoever it was — young or old, woman or man — once traveled along the Boulevard like me, seeking a destination that would remain unreached.
Family and friends have long buried their loved one, or perhaps scattered ashes and tears on the wind. Yet they also chose to mark the place where soul and body were separated, where the unseen trail of a human life ceased. As sun and rain have worn away the memorial’s lettering, fresh paint has been applied, and the cross has been righted after heavy snowfalls.
In recent years, such memorials have come to be seen as a nuisance by some — a kind of litter, or a misuse of public space, or (when religious symbols are used) a blurring of the lines between church and state. Yet anthropologists and other social scientists observe that humans persist in erecting these makeshift monuments, particularly as our pace of daily life accelerates, as we hold the wheel in one hand and the cell phone in the other — as we become, quite literally, more driven.
A tombstone isn’t enough to mark a life; what is needed is a tale. Crosses, candles, balloons, flowers, stuffed animals on the corner or the guardrail all beg us to see that a human being was here, was someone, was loved. And at a time when broad generalizations and snap social media judgments prevail, when we are quick to delineate “us” and “them,” how we need to remember that each and every individual is made in the image and likeness of God, with a unique value known only to our creator.
Even without words, these humble displays deliver an eloquent eulogy: Remember me, that I was more than someone on the left or the right, on the outside or the inside of a border, on the popular or the unpopular side of an issue.
Remember me, the single parent, the migrant, the office worker, the student, the abuse survivor, the expectant mother, the aspiring artist, the veteran, the laborer, the athlete, the developmentally challenged, the dreamer, the teen in search of a future, the elderly longing for rest.
Remember me, where I once stood, and share my journey, even if only for a few steps.
Jesus will indeed remember this unnamed soul who, like thousands before and since, once rode or walked along the Boulevard, any boulevard.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.com.
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