By: M. Jai Jenkins
I started traveling to Indianapolis, Indiana on a regular basis in January of 2014. From my hometown in Ohio, it was a just under 90 minutes. I was taking the trip once a week originally, but within a couple years; I was going daily. I learned every inch of the route (I drove a truck for 14 years) and developed techniques to keep me woke or to be able to identify where I am. By habit, I surveyed ever thing I passed. The land, the farms, manufacturing plants, rest stops, stores, gas stations and places the state patrol sat, to watch traffic. For the most part, its actually a very peaceful ride, with little congestion to slow you down unless there’s construction.
Like any other highway, not many things are worth discussing but there is something on this road that always will stay with me. Something tragic happened on this road less than a quarter mile from mile-marker 98. An accident occurred here, sometime before I started making this trip but it was what happened after the accident, that resonates so deeply with me. Often, I see an unfortunate cross placed off the side of the rode, signaling where someone lost a family member in an accident. This was not like any memorial I’ve ever seen and although it’s no longer there; I’ll never forget it or what it taught me about love and loss .
When I first started making the trip, it was in January and when I first noticed the cross staked in the ground. It was barely noticeable. Covering most of it was Christmas decorations. The entire shrine was carefully laid out with everything to celebrate the holiday. Boxes to mimic presents, lights, candy canes and more. It had appeared that someone recently passed and the family came here to celebrate with their deceased love one. My initial thought was that whoever it was designed for, was well loved while they were here and then, I felt sad thinking about the tears someone shed, while decorating it. I saw it every timed I passed for about a month and a half before something interesting happened.
When I drove by after Valentines Day, it had been redecorated. I was surprised. This was also someone’s Valentine as well. Now I wondered. I knew they were loved but I wondered many other things. Were they man or woman, young or old, drunk driver, accidental crash or a hit pedestrian. I concluded (and could be wrong) that this was a mother that lost a child. The decorations were meticulously setup and aesthetically appealing. It looked like love and sadness simultaneously occurring but that’s not what made it burnish itself into my memory and conscience. It was the Easter decorations when April came around, the 4th of July memorial in the summer, a Thanksgiving setup and then, another Christmas layout.
I tried to imagine how hurt the person had to be upon learning of their death, I knew it was immeasurable. I also considered that it could be someone’s spouse and they come here on holidays because they were now alone. Whomever they were, they were deeply loved and deeply missed. The following year, the same thing occurred and I now wondered, how long have they been doing this, prior to me traveling this way? I wanted to pull over and check the name and date but something in me told me not to. I didn’t want to intrude on their loved one’s memorial. I also knew it would become my obsession and I’d be trying to learn everything I can about the people involved.
To whom ever lost a family member or loved one here, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for your loss and the grief, which is as evident, as the love you convey in your efforts to honor your loved one. You taught me a few things about love and loss. My childhood and most of my adult life, lacked love; so seeing this, helped show me a new facet of love. I can only hope that I’m loved half as much when I’m gone.