David Rodeback's Blog

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Saturday, October 17, 2009
Thoughts on Passing Milepost 49

It was mere coincidence that I took a trip to Idaho this weekend to visit family.

I have written in recent days -- well, nights more than days -- to describe and to honor a community and also the high school marching band which has seemed more than ever, lately, to be the heart of that community. Both band and community have remembered and celebrated the heroism of an ordinary, extraordinary music teacher, who died a week ago in the act of saving her students.

I think I saw Heather Christensen at a concert once, but otherwise I didn't know her until I began to read about her in the newspaper one week ago tonight. I did not attend her funeral today. I might not have done so anyway, but as it happens, I was out of the state.

I was in Idaho.

Thursday evening, I got on I-15 and drove north until I got to Blackfoot, Idaho, some 25 miles or so north of Pocatello. Then I exited the freeway and headed mostly west for a few miles, to Moreland, which is barely a town at all, but is where I spent my youth. Some of my family still lives there; hence my visit. This evening I reversed that route and came home.

As it happens, somewhat south of Pocatello, near milepost 49, just off the southbound side of the freeway, there is still evidence, if you slow down just a tad and watch for it, of what happened a week ago. It won't be there for long; it will soon be overgrown, because life is relentless and implacable, even in what is almost a desert. I didn't stop, and I took no pictures, but you can imagine what I saw, and you can see what I imagined.

I have seen the scenes of fatal accidents before; some few times I have witnessed the accidents themselves. There is an air of tragedy at such places. There is something tragic about this one, too, but there is more, perhaps for two reasons. First, most of the potential tragedy there was averted -- though obviously not all of it. There was one funeral today, not two or three or ten. Second, it is a place not only of tragedy but of great and willing sacrifice. So it is sad, yes, but also sacred.

I did not try to leave any visible mark of my passing, though someone who knows the route to and from my destination had suggested it. The deepest, most permanent marks we leave when we pass are rarely the tangible ones, anyway. The past week has offered ample evidence of this.

I did recall just then a verse from an old hymn by Thomas Ken, which is often sung to an even older tune by Thomas Tallis. One sometimes still hears it in concert or religious settings. It is an evening prayer; we know it by its first line: "Glory to thee, my God, this night." The lines that sprang to mind were these:

Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the awful day.

In the general vicinity of milepost 49 on I-15 in Idaho, perhaps that means something.

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