The road was straight and level. No dips, not high enough to freeze. But there it was. About 50 feet off to the East side of the road–a white cross with plastic flowers wired to it. It wasn’t the first I had seen, in fact, Arizona seems to have more of them than any other state I’ve lived in.
Certainly, it could be because putting a cross on the side of the road to remember a loved one who has died there is a custom more popular in this Southwest than in New England or the deep South.
What mystifies me is how these accidents happened. The ones I’ve seen are on straight stretches of well-paved highway. There are three on the section of McKelliips Road that cuts across the Rio Salado to join the 101 going North to Scottsdale, about a mile from the Casino.
Maybe there was liquor involved. Maybe carelessness. We don’t know and don’t get to judge. All we know is that someone died. The shrines vary greatly. Some simply have faded plastic flowers wired to them. Others have mementos piled high–Disney figurines stand watch next to Virgin Marys and teddy bears. Many have some sort of liquor bottle–an easy-to-leave reminder of what the deceased liked.
Roadside shrines are outlawed in some states–considered a danger, a nuisance, a distraction. I’ve seen the markers encouraged by the state–blue squares that look like parking signs, with small writing. You drive past, not looking, not thinking. Those signs that are easy to ignore don’t make us uncomfortable. The roadside crosses do. They stand in mute reminder that we can die at any time, at any place, even in a straight stretch of road on a sunny day.
I like the mystery of it, the unanswered questions, the symbols of love. It creates a small well of wonder, into which we dip our cup of curiosity and come away tasting only uncertainty. We need those shrines to remind us of the frailty of life. I bet those crosses make more people drive carefully for a few minutes than a discreet road marker. The road marker says. . .something. The cross says, “I died unexpectedly, you can too.” It’s a powerful message.
–Images: (c) photographs by Quinn McDonald.
–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach, writer and artist who is interested in life’s transitions. See her work at QuinnCreative.com