Creating a Memorial

On August 4th, during a wonderful Arts festival, I was asked how I would define myself. Immediately I thought of the things I do. The person who asked stopped me mid-sentence and clarified her question. How would I define who I am inside, not what I do. Well, that seriously stumped me. I still don’t have an answer. I believe I stammered something about being a storyteller. I thought about my love of trees and the forest, but didn’t know how I would put that into words for a definition of who I am.

As some of you already know, later that evening, a local man I know, and his dog, were killed by a hit and run driver.  Being a small community, everyone is impacted. Being totally honest, sometimes I liked that old brindle boxer more than I liked his human companion, but no one should be left dying and alone, on a narrow forest road in the middle of the night.

This morning I walked to work. The road has no shoulder, the woods come right up to the edge, and with our rare sunshine, it was a beautiful walk. Until the first car passed me. They were polite, going slow, moved out around me. But still I couldn’t help but imagine the force of impact if they hit me. How it would feel to hit pavement, to be dragged, to be left? There isn’t a whole lot of traffic on this road. I could have been there for a while. As a writer, I wondered how I would describe such a thing and was unsettled by the thought, as if I belittled what he went through.

Further down the road, a memorial has shown up where this man and his dog died. People have been leaving mementos that reminded them of him, or that they knew were important to him. The dog’s brush is there with a package of dog treats. A shed snake skin because the man volunteered at a Reptile Zoo and had great compassion for his charges. An amethyst necklace. A ceramic dragon. A photo of him with his son. Flowers of course. Apples. Candles. A feather that looks like it came from a hawk.

Things that define him to those who cared for him.

So how do you define yourself? What would people who care for you leave in remembrance, leave as reminders of what they saw in you?

Paper and pen. Rocks (I’m always hauling home interesting rocks). A pot with a little tree maybe? Favorite books. Hopefully a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate. Garnets for sure. Tiny ones gathered from our river.

It’s a very strange thing to think about and makes me feel uncomfortable, maybe slightly maudlin or self-centered. But do think about it. How do you define yourself? How do you want to be remembered?

I’ve come back to the beginning of this piece, for me anyway.

As a storyteller.

6 thoughts on “Creating a Memorial

  1. I always felt that my love of writing, of words, was something that defined me, but if I’m not allowed to use that sort of thing … I suppose I’m a person who cares about other people and wonders about their feelings and thoughts even if I’m not close to them. I’m a natural nurturer who has to work at being comfortable with emotional distance, yet sometimes I’m a loner who relishes getting things done without eyes on me. I care about the world’s landscape and the humans’ political landscapes, too.

    I suppose those who knew me would leave pencils and paper to remember me, and bamboo crochet hooks and knitting needles, organic cotton and wool yarns, chocolate truffles, and carrot cake.

    • If I came across a memorial with yarns and hooks and needles, I would have to sit and touch, run the skeins through my fingers, hold the hooks and feel the bamboo warm in my hands. And I would be sad that I didn’t know the person who had left something that I, too, enjoy. As far as your definition of self, I think you described you perfectly.

  2. Funny and unsettling at the same time to think about this…
    I think what defines us is what we love and are passionate about because we shares this with the people and so that is what they know about us most.
    I hope people would first of all leave something blue for me, maybe rocks and chocolate, sand and water for the beach, maybe a Ford Mustang model and something that has to do with my job, dealing with children. Oh and some DVDs… 😉

    For you Lisa I would definitely leave lots and lots of plants, rescued from the garden centers! And well all the other things you said and something like a kilt or pipes for your love of Scotland and its culture.

    And again you feel self centered if you have to think about yourself…

    Well I hope you are writing!!! See you on Wednesday!

    • Somehow, my reply got lost. I like your definition of what defines us. It makes me wonder if what defines us is the same thing as what we are inside, or if what defines us is more what others see in us. Now there’s a deep thought. I’ll have to ponder that one for a while. You are definitely defined by blue, and mustangs, children and the beach. To that I would also define you by your loyalty to friends and family, your readiness to defend and stand up for and push friends in the direction they are afraid to go alone.
      Yep, you’re right. I forgot about all the rescued half dead plants (but they’re so cheap!). And I guess I’d have to throw a CD by Wicked Tinkers on top of the growing pile. That would take care of both kilts and pipes! And my love of scruffy men.

  3. “I couldn’t help but imagine the force of impact if they hit me.” Lisa, I think about this all the time. Erik’s best friend died when they were in high school; he was out for a run and a driver hit him. Even though we all went to the same school, they were a year above me, and I never met Gabe, though he’s a presence in our relationship (and I often think, perhaps the groomsman Erik didn’t have at our wedding). When we hear about car accidents, or unsafe driving, or when we walk together on roads without sidewalks or shoulders, I know we’re both thinking how close these machines bring us all to death.

    Traveling has made me think a lot about who I am inside, versus what I do. Inside my heart there is a great caring for people and animals, a deep delight in the world, a good dash of silliness and whimsy, and a fondness for organizing and arranging (which is related to my creativity). My memorial might have painted bits of paper, worn books, photos with loved ones, colorful scraps of fabric flying in the breeze, smooth stones arranged in a ring, living plants, and (like Ré’s!), carrot cake. Or cookies. Or pie. And perhaps someone could go there regularly and leave meat or fish, so there would always be cats.

    Even though it’s sad, this talk of memorials touches me very much, because I do see us in the things we’ve said we would want at ours. The way we do cemeteries and graves these days… it just seems so blank, though I guess that’s what home altars are for. I’m glad we appreciate each other while we’re here. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

    • How awful to lose a best friend that way. It’s just so senseless. Well, I suppose most accidental death is. I saw so many in my days as an EMT/firefighter. So many preventable losses.
      There is such an odd dichotomy between what we do and who we are, and I often wonder if anyone, even those closest to us really know who we are. Rarely we know that, ourselves! One thing I noticed missing from the things you would hope to have in a memorial are your drawings. I would hope to see the line drawings you have done of yourself.
      There is a very old cemetery in Wallace, Idaho, where some of the oldest headstones have tin-type photos under glass. I still can’t decide if I find that creepy or sad or wonderful, to be able to see who lies within the earth on the very spot I stand.
      The practice of commemorating death and creating memorials has changed over the years, hasn’t it? Have you seen old tombstones in your Scotland travels? I remember huge ones that held the whole story of a person. Headstones these days seem so simple and cold.And I notice people, more and more, using their cars as memorials, which, for some reason, I find very strange.
      Wow, we’ve digressed into a pretty serious post here!

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