Sunday, October 8, 2017

In Memoriam

How do we handle loss? We’ve all felt it ourselves, or stood next to it, or watched it unravel the lives of strangers. But what do we do with it? Where do we put it?

In several of my classes this year (2018) and last (2017), we read Amy Waldman’s 2011 novel, The Submission, a book that examines the depths of loss and the tensions that arise in attempting to acknowledge and contain it. The setup for the book is pretty simple: it’s two years after 9/11, and a committee has been formed to select a winner for a nationwide contest to design a memorial to those killed in the attacks. It’s a blind competition, so no one knows anything about the designers until one is selected. The committee chooses the winning design, and the designer is revealed. His name is Mohammad Khan, and he’s a Muslim. Naturally, controversies unfold and lives are damaged--some irrevocably.

Amidst these controversies, several issues emerge, and our discussions have tried to address all of them. For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on two: the complexities of public memory and the purpose of memorials. Khan’s design—a garden laid out according to rigid geometry—is meant as a public monument that will contain and reflect the personal memories and emotions of those affected. But given the plurality (and sometimes cross-purposes) of these memories and the racial tensions in our society, the difficulties of this task become too much to overcome.

And yet, these characters need to remember the dead, to offer some memorial to them, to gain closure and begin to heal. In one scene, near the end, a character honors his dead father by placing a small stone cairn in the corner of a garden. Waldman writes, “With a pile of stones, he had written a name.” The gesture is minor but meaningful. It is, in fact, the only real act of memorializing in a 300-plus page book about a memorial.

To connect more closely with the spirit of this character’s act, I decided that my students and I should create a memorial of our own—one that would be both individual and collective. So I bought a couple of bags of river rock at Lowe’s, hauled them to class in a bucket (nearly dislocating my shoulder in the process), and asked each student to take a few and place them somewhere on campus in memory of a family member, friend, or pet. After they found their spot and “wrote a name with a pile of rocks,” they took a picture and sent it to me with the name of the person memorialized. The rocks were meant to transform our campus into a group memorial comprised of individual acts of remembrance. And because people or weather or time will undoubtedly unstack these rocks, the pictures were meant to make permanent our memorial (as only the Internet can).

So here I present the memorial created by my Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 “Introduction to Literature” and “Critical Thinking through Literature” classes, a collection of pictures, stones, names, and stories (these appear down in the “Comments” section of this post):

Barbara Ann Neely

Andrea Nunez


Milo Fantone

Grandma Kiki

Rodolfo De La Torre

Chase Butterbean Robertson

Grandma Susanne

Martin Lopez

Thomasa Butler

All the Victims of School Shootings

Oscar Sotelo

Corporal Adam Wolff

Grandma Eunice

Art Vogel

Teresita Lozaro

Danita Raminha

Dwayne Drakeford

Michael Kahl

Nancy Carrol Nolan

Grandpa Bill

Grandpa Daniel


Nicacio Carapia

Jesus Gutierrez

Eileen Bender

Caliope Diacantaonis

Barbara Maple

Denise Delossantos


Joseph Tamborelli

Haley Knoll

Elton Gregory Joseph

Virgilio Lopez

Barbra Racheck

Uncle Mike

Jesus Hernandez

Byeonghyeon Min

Cliff Wenzlick

Daniela Pereyda, Francisco Malfavon, and Muffy

All the people I can't forget

Anna Marie and Porter Meisland


Burl Dean Ellis




Darrell Von Driska


Kitty Hart



John Gillmore



Doug Durrant (1st)
Doug Durrant (2nd)

Homero Perez

Carlos Preciado

Martin and Kai

Lexi Dale

Mina Sabeghi


Rajih Maida and Menum Barakat

Aunt Chansey

Adrian Avila

Ralph Richter


Rosa Garcia

Mike Kinsella

Gerald M. Bloomfield II


Olivia McClellan

Thomas Zielinski

Thomas Versaci



Ernesto Edraisa


Garland Ayers

Richard Peterson (Grandpa Pete)

Joy Smith


Brendon Arce


Victims of the Las Vegas shooting (1st)

Victims of the Las Vegas shooting (2nd)