There is a sign that I pass by in our new town and every time I pass it, it strikes me differently. At first, I thought maybe it was placed there by mistake? Like, by some tricky high school kids? You see, it's one of those big light-up signs with the arrow, that sits in a yard. The kind you rent as a gag for someone on their birthday so that everyone who drives by knows LORDY LORDY LOOK WHO'S FORTY. Schools have them MARDI GRAS BAZAAR, FEBRUARY 2, churches post them, BINGO EVERY WEDNESDAY. But this one sits at the end of a sloping driveway. It says, "MY BUDDY SARGE DIED HERE, JUNE 19." I took it to mean that maybe Sarge was a beloved dog who was killed by a wreckless driver. And the dog owner just wanted everyone to know that the dog had a name, and he died, and that was over a month ago, and the pain is still there. So slow down.
Then, though, I thought maybe Sarge was not a dog, or any kind of furry friend. And then I got really sick thinking that Sarge might have been a little buddy, a little boy. Do little boys take the name Sarge, though? Oh dear. I hoped not.
When I drove by with Loverpants, he said something about Sarge maybe being in the military. But the whole "died here" seemed to flag some other significance.
I keep passing the sign hoping one of two things. Either the sign will go away, or that it will remain and the message will change. In this vain hope, my confusion and struggle are revealed.
The sign, to me, is the antithesis of our modern message. It is not a status update under which friends can comment. It is not a text message that can be deleted. It is not a tweet that can be retweeted. It is bold and unapologetic. It is public. It has no expiration date.
The sign is also antithetical to the way I experience grief and pain, and yet it touches me and twists my heart around in the exact ways it needs to be wrung out and left to swell. I feel my own pain very deeply but I rarely stare it in the face. I don't want to go there, I don't want to get messy with the ugly cry, so instead I will remove the blinking arrow sign I AM HURTING from my lawn and hope no one notices that I was too depressed to cut the grass today.
I feel the pain of others' so tremendously that sometimes I cannot abide it. The pain of my loved ones and the pain of the postal worker when I see he just gave himself a paper cut and the pain of Farrah on "Teen Mom" when she gets denied Sophia's social security benefits. Better that I change the channel lest I get too involved. Involved. Invested. Wanting desperately to fix and feeling impotent with my limited, whimpy set of tools. I drive by your house and see your sign I AM IN ANGUISH BUT YOU CANNOT DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT so instead I stuff your mailbox with candy and just keep driving by and driving by until the message changes. But the last year has taught me that this is not the course of action to take. And so I choose, I seek the harder course. The one by which a friend's sign would not only be read, but by which her burden might even be lightened.
I haven't experienced enough cultures (regional, international, or otherwise) firsthand to know if this sign is an anomaly or if it is commonplace in these parts. What I do know is that someone is mourning his little buddy Sarge, who died here June 19, and so will I, too, until the message changes, until the sign goes away.