By Rosalie Tirella
I remember seeing the makeshift shrine on Grafton Street about a year or two ago. I was driving up Dorchester Street, going to Building 19. I came to the end of the street, the intersection of Dorcester and Grafton streets, and there it was: the wreath, the cellophane hearts and flowers. I knew instantly: Some one had died there – in that exact spot.
I had read about the tragedy in the papers.
“God,” I said to myself. “What a horrible way to die – car speeding straight into a stone wall … .”
The driver, a young guy, had been at a party and decided to drive home drunk. Zooming down Dorchester Street, a long and hilly affair that seems to go on forever, he was too drunk to see the stop sign at the end of Dorchester, too drunk to notice the street had come to an end, too drunk to slow down … . And a young life came to a violent halt that night.
I was reminded of the incident for months because I’m always driving around the Grafton Street shopping plaza – for groceries, whatever, – and always drive up Dorchester Street to get there. For months, I always saw the shrine to that young man. For months family and friends maintained it, cleaned up and updated what was now hallowed ground.
You see that a lot with urban shrines – they are kept up beautifully. At Christmas there are wreaths tacked to the spot where victims exhaled their last breaths of air. On Valentine’s Day you see the heart-shaped candy boxes and pink stuffed animals adorning pictures of the deceased. Little statues of plaster or Paris angels bought at the Dollar Store.
Color in a sometimes drab world. Life in a sometimes deadly world.
When I see an urban shrine well maintained for months – and most of them are – I think: that person is not forgotten, the community has not forgotten him/her.
So many times poor people are forgotten by society or dismissed by the people around them. People with power or money who see poor folks as too noisy, too ignorant, too unattractive … . Whatever. I have seen/experienced it. You go to places and people talk over you and past you because they know you don’t have the best car or the best clothes or you’re too old or too young. And you can’t touch them.
But the shrines do touch people – they can touch an entire neighborhood – or even city.
And often times poor folks create a kind of church service at these sacred places. Maybe they can’t afford a flower-laden casket and the pomp and ceremony that you can buy at funeral homes. Sometimes bodies are even shipped to other states, in a way disappearing forever.
But with an urban shrine, people can exert some control. Plastic flowers from the Dollar Store can cascade down walls, golden-framed photos can rest on the sidewalk – out of the way and yet not too far away. So we don’t forget. A poem written by a friend. A placard with a place to write your name and goodbye … .
About a month ago, after the murder of a young guy in Crompton Park, I was driving down Quinsigamond Ave and noticed that a little shrine had popped up near the old field house there. Several people were gathered around the shrine, talking quietly, remembering the youth who had just been murdered … .
A bit of peace. A place to reflect on life … the evil of guns … what we can all do to make Worcester a better place.
The city mourns.
Mourns in a way that is true, heart-felt. The shrines that mourners set up in playgrounds, parks, sidewalks are really churches – gatherings of people to pray, to be together to give each other strength and maybe ask for God’s help. Churches, in the truest sense.
People need churches, need to come together. It is a shame that DPW and Parks Head Robert Moylan has decided to desecrate urban shrines and the experiences they embody.
It is a shame that Moylan has decided – with the City Council’s blessing – to give inner-city folks 30 days to have their shrines up. And then: a DPW truck comes along and picks it all up – like so much refuse.
To be fair to Moylan, he said the City of Worcester would keep the personal affects, memorabilia for a bit of time.
So the mourners could pick up … pieces of their hearts at DPW headquarters – with the garbage trucks and plows and noise buzzing all around them.
This new rule is senseless and callous and needs to be repealed.