A shrine for “A”
While walking around Manhattan’s Upper West Side this evening, I happened to pass a recently-erected shrine. It’s located on the sidewalk on the south side of the street next to a brick and concrete apartment building. The shrine is quite small and not particularly elaborate. It comprises a cardboard box, some candles, a vase with flowers, and two handwritten signs that begin with “RIP A”.
Although I have been concentrating on roadside shrines, and this is technically beside a road, this shrine made me think about a few things I hadn’t really considered before. I realized, as I looked at this memorial, that I couldn’t tell if it marks the place where “A” died, or if it is located there because that is the apartment building in which “A” had lived. I suppose it could also be both. When shrines are erected next to highways, especially on dangerous stretches of road, they are usually placed as near as possible to the precise death site of the person they are for. However, I’m finding that in cities it is often much more difficult to tell at first glance why a memorial is in a particular place. Without speaking to the person who erected this shrine to “A,” I can’t know the significance of its location.
I’m left wondering why I’m wondering at all about the importance of that spot on the sidewalk. There is something discombobulating about recognizing a space as sacred but not understanding immediately why the space is sacred. How does knowing the story of that sidewalk [or highway] impact the person passing by? Why is knowing the story important? Why is it unsettling to not know what happened there?
One final thought for tonight about this shrine. I notice that the date of death is November 11, 2010. This shrine was just erected this week (it has never been there when I’ve passed by before). I’ve seen instances of people bringing new offerings to a shrine on the anniversary of a person’s death, but I’m curious about the motivation to build a new shrine to commemorate the anniversary. Does that in any way alter the shrine’s function? Purpose? Spontaneity? Any thoughts?