EDITORIAL: A heartfelt 'vandalism'

Dismay that some Peninsula residents feel about the impending paint-over of a graffiti-style tribute to Dallas Smith at the South Surrey Skate Park highlights a continuing problem that touches most B.C. communities.

Whenever tragedy strikes suddenly, particularly in the case of accidental deaths, the deep-seated human need to create memorials emerges among those left to mourn.

B.C. roadsides are dotted with crosses, flowers, written tributes and clutches of stuffed toys – each one testimony to a life extinguished all too soon.

Other spontaneous, ad hoc memorials accumulate at schools or houses or places special to the deceased, depending on the circumstances, and sometimes the tributes are even more extensive, as in the case of the memorial to Smith, who along with girlfriend Lauren Sewell, died in an Aug. 13 plane crash in Peachland.

The trouble is that most of the tributes constitute – if only technically – some form of vandalism or defacement of private or public property.

And yet, it’s clear that’s not the intent of people creating such memorials. They originate in an impulse entirely different from the impulse to vandalize or deface – an impulse that, judging by ancient memorials unearthed at archeological digs, has been with humankind since the dawn of time.

It’s evident that blind eyes are turned to many of the memorials in our communities out of respect for the grief that inspires them.

But that doesn’t solve the problem. Should there not be some kind of legitimate venue, some specific space set aside for this form of expression within our communities, a place where a genuine manifestation of mourning is not subject to removal or painting-over?

While there have been attempts to formalize the process of remembrance, such as South Surrey’s Forever Garden, there is an apparent need for a different vehicle – one that recognizes the spontaneity of emotion at a time of grief.

Human nature being what it is, there will likely always be memorials that break or bend the rules – or exceed our subjective judgments of appropriateness and good taste.

But recognition of a need for a space for informal memorials may do much to channel the legitimate expression of residents’ feelings – without occasioning an apparently unfeeling response from city bureaucrats.


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