Tuesday, October 7, 2008

the grassy knoll

Here on the eve of yet another debate, I'm looking for the snapshots most recently downloaded from my camera phone and find instead just these few images taken in Dallas more than a month ago -- the grassy knoll, and the x marks (3 of them, you can only see one here) in the pavement on Elm St where JFK was shot and killed.

It's an odd experience, being there - very different from my memories of the Vietnam War Memorial, for example. CP and I talked a little about this, I think, as we explored the aging historical markers nearby and contemplated the view. I was reminded more of the soon-to-reopen (at that time) 35w Bridge over the Mississippi; because Elm St and the other road that leads to the Triple Underpass are still busy thoroughfares, and trains cross that viaduct regularly, though they are LRT rather than freight these days. Cars by the hundreds, maybe thousands roll over the sad white X marks on Elm St each day -- I guess I was surprised by this. As is the case with the 35W bridge, we choose not to let the dead have the final word in our national tragedies if it impedes automobile throughput. Whereas, in Washington DC, war memorials hold sway perhaps by dint of sheer numerical force behind the names of those killed - and quiet lawns allow us room and mental space within which to consider our dead, their causes.

Maybe it's a pure function of the manner of death -- like a white cross on the roadside to memorialize a tragic car accident. One man dies in the road, and regardless of the importance of his life, the road remains a public right-of-way. A dozen plus people perished in the Mississippi when the bridge collapsed, but the honoring of their lives and the lessons learned must wait until a suitable out-of-the-way marker can be wrought. As if the highway were a river itself, and these deaths the incidental drownings of those who stray too near. John Kennedy didn't technically die on Elm St, but a nation was summarily executed there -- and in Minneapolis, a community was wounded at the heart of its birthplace on the river; but to each the anthem is merely the repetitive grinding roar, the white noise of passing cars.

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