In Memoriam

William Rumelhart, Author

In Memoriam

William Rumelhart

When I look through my window on those gray days of indefinite gloom, I see in the nine panes a different nostalgia: wet sand at the beach or soaring swing sets at the park. Yet one recent overcast afternoon, a fleeting, troubling image appeared in the glass. It was of a moment four years ago traveling in a car, passing through some ordinary city I do not recall. 

I had fallen asleep, nestled in the black leather seat, lulled by the mechanical stop and start of plodding traffic. Dusk was nearing its end and the radio was tuned to the classical station. Soft Debussy melodies hummed through the speakers.  

I awoke with a start as the shrill announcer introduced the next piece. I rested back against the headrest, trying in vain to return to that deep, easy slumber. The traffic was moving faster now. 

I turned to look through the window at passing cars, but my eyes locked onto the outermost white line as it lurched and recoiled with the curvature of the road. It snaked along the shoulder, then quickly jutted off with an off-ramp. In the dirt dividing the highway from the ramp, I was drawn to a trio of stout trees. 

Nailed to the most snarled of the three was a thin white cross. Thick black letters spelled a name I could not make out. Flowers and small electric candles lay scattered in the dirt below as if sprinkled from up above. Then it all fell out of sight behind the pillar of an overcrossing.

Time slowed. The music receded and the melodies slurred into an ambient whir. I stared into the black of the seat in front of me, searching for an explanation but not finding it. 

I looked once more out the car window and saw moments of my own life dissolved by the side of the road. Important memories were strewn across the weeds among plastic bags, soda cans, bits of old newspaper. Deaths, sicknesses, vacations, goodbyes: all lost in the litter. 

Slowly, the images began to fade like paint running thin until nothing remained but desolate dirt. Soon, the highway began to drain of cars.

In the on and on-ness of everyday life, I have found myself thinking more about this cross by the side of a highway with a resigned melancholy. The name never to be known; the flowers never to be smelled; the candles never to be held. 

But at least I can say the two words that matter most: I remember.