How Will You Be Remembered?

Posted: August 7, 2011 in Life
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 On August 1, 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota collapsed during the evening rush hour, sending vehicles and their occupants plummeting toward the Mississippi River. Thirteen people died, 145 more were injured. It was a Wednesday; for some reason I remember that clearly. The news footage that night and for days after was filled with images of mangled steel bridge supports, the crushed shells of vehicles, rescue crews pulling victims, living and dead, out of the water and off of the crumbled sections of the bridge. I remember calling my friend Lynnette, who lives near the Cities, to make sure neither she nor anyone in her family had been crossing the bridge on the way home that night. The odds that they would be were astronomical, I’m sure, but calls like that are something we do when people who are important to us are in the proximity of tragic events.

On August 1, 2011, a memorial to the 35W bridge collapse was unveiled. It’s called the I-35W Remembrance Garden and it sits along West River Parkway about a quarter-mile upstream from where the tragedy occurred. The memorial contains a granite wall with a message in stainless steel letters that reads:

“Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events.”

Two days after the unveiling, the memorial wall was vandalized and that message was reduced to a cryptic jumble of words because some disrespectful idiot pried 22 of the letters off the wall. Stupid, pointless, inexcusable. No reason could justify such action. The remaining letters have since been removed because the incomplete message was confusing to visitors. The builder of the memorial hopes to have new letters made and the memorial repaired later this month.

I have a thing for memorials and monuments. I am proud to have worked on the dedication events for South Dakota’s World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War Veterans Memorials. When I travel, I visit memorial sites when I have the opportunity. And several times a year, I make random donations to small communities who are raising funds for local memorials whether they be for veterans, founders, or in celebration of a community surviving 100 years of existence on the Midwestern prairie.

Memorials are erected in honor of the famous and the nameless, in recognition of victories and losses, to celebrate histories and inspire futures. But they all have the same purpose: to make us remember. So to the I-35W Memorial vandal, when they catch you (and they will), how will you be remembered? As the jerk who defaced a memorial to the dead and a tribute to the living.

Have a memorial or monument that has special meaning to you? I’d love to hear about it!

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Comments
  1. One half mile from my childhood home, a big rock stands up on one end, and a plaque upon it informs visitors that they are standing on the original homestead site where the Ingalls family lived, as detailed in Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and several other books in her series. Ancient cottonwoods adorn the site that overlooks the slough. When the wind blows, the prairie grass and the slough grass toss like waves on a lake and with a bit of imagination you can picture that view uninterrupted by the town, the forest planted by the CCC, the highway, etc. I always felt a connection to the past, to the people whose struggles were for survival, who maybe took time away from their labors to appreciate the beauty of the wind on the grass.

    • I think of you and the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant every time I drive through DeSmet. What a wonderful description you’ve given! Makes me think of the cover of one of her books.

  2. How mean-spirited do you have to be to deface a monument like that? I hope when they catch this person that not only does he have to do hours and hours of community service, besides some time behind bars, but that he/she has to face the families of those who lost loved ones in the collapse of the bridge.

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