Once again, floral memorials spring up in the streets—this time in the city of Charlottesville—makeshift, evocative and touching tributes to yet another life lost to violence.
Heather Heyer was killed Saturday when a car driven by an allegedly neo-Nazi follower, James Alex Fields Jr., deliberately rammed his vehicle into crowds of protestors during a white supremacist rally in the city. Heyer, 32, was trying to cross the street with friends when she was struck. A number of others were also injured.
In a photo that quickly circulated on the web, a smiling Heyer looks out with an almost mischievous look, a woman described by her friends and family as passionate about social justice.
Sadly, florists around the world are having to accommodate a new group of buyers for their products. Where once U.S. florists counted three major “busy” times—Easter, Mother’s Day, Christmas—as well as funerals, graduations and weddings, increasingly, they have to carry sufficient stock on hand to provide solace to people impacted by hate and violence—and to remember individuals they may never have known.
Whether it was the huge sea of flowers outside Kensington Place 20 years ago after the death of Princess Diana that springs to memory; the lost future promise of the children of Sandy Hook; the memory of the journalists who died in the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in 2015; the Stockholm truck crash; the December 2016 truck attack on the German Christmas market; the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May; or the recent attacks on London Bridge and at the Finsbury Park mosque—we have become used to a sad “new normal.”
And, Saturday, that seemingly unlikely reality came to Charlottesville. Known previously for its academic prowess, quiet and architectural beauty in the shade of Thomas Jefferson, it is now also known for streets stained by violence and hatred.
We now live with a new, public, way of mourning in which the beauty of flowers allows us to remember people who most of us have never known. We can also do it on social media, but there is something so immediate about a posy of flowers.
The urge to acknowledge people who’ve died in this way, innocent bystanders caught up in something beyond them, is overwhelming. We rush to a nearby flower shop, and come out with a bunch of roses or other flowers, to add to the growing stack of tributes against the wall, whose serene beauty give us a way to pay tribute, to say “your life was important, what you stood up for was important.”
Flowers have been with us forever. They are depicted on Etruscan vases or Egyptian tombs and temples. They come out of the earth: they flourish for a while—delighting us with their bright colors and beauty—before fading back into the soil whence they came.
Perhaps that is their essential gift to us—a reminder that life always renews and allows us to comfort those in pain and loss. Above all, those bouquets stand as visual symbols of Americans’ pride in their country and the place where they live.