Of the big three memorials (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln), my favorite has always been Lincoln. Because I find Lincoln to be a particularly appealing fellow. He had issues. He suffered career setbacks. (Two unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate.) He was no male model. (A face only a mother could love? Thank goodness for the beard.) His home life was hardly exemplary. (His wife? A little out there.) His subordinates? Plenty of incompetence there. (McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Meade—he relieved his generals more frequently than Dan Snyder replaces his Redskin coaches.) And clearly, he had enemies. I’ve got to believe that this is a man who had self doubts. He’s someone I can relate to.
So it is that when I gaze upon his marble statue and see the words to his speeches carved in stone, I am touched. I get a lump in my throat.
Recently, there has been a memorial that inspired me more. I saw it every morning for a year after I dropped my son off at high school. It was just a combination of flowers, a framed photograph, some candles perhaps, and assorted odds and ends that came and went. It grew up in a grassy patch between the road and a fence that marked the back property line of a house where one of the victims in the Virginia Tech shootings had lived.
I don’t know how many times the sight of it brought tears to my eyes. If ever I was feeling cranky about the morning carpool chore, it quickly reminded me to be grateful that I had my son to ferry around. That there was a family living there who would give anything to share a car ride with their daughter.
After a year the family must have decided to grieve in other ways, as the flowers, the photograph, and the assorted other paraphernalia disappeared. Now I probably couldn’t even identify which section of fence housed the makeshift remembrance.
Several months after the tragic shootings I answered the telephone and heard an automated message. The call was from my older son’s college, William and Mary, one of the three flagship public schools in Virginia. (Though, at least in terms of media coverage, it is often overshadowed by its larger cousins, Tech and UVa.) It was their newly installed emergency hot line notification system. W&M administrators brought it online it in the aftermath of the Tech shootings, clearly in response to criticisms about information dissemination.
Now I get those calls about twice a year, including today. “This is only a test….” Each time I remember the sad April day almost three years ago when thirty-two young lives were lost in Blacksburg. For me, it’s become an audio memorial, every bit as meaningful as Mr. Lincoln down on the mall.