Wildflowers for the dead at Sutherland Springs Cemetery

March 24, 2019

How did I forget the name Sutherland Springs? While passing through this town of 600 people on my wildflower drive last Thursday, a riotous carpet of flowers caught my eye. I hit the brakes and pulled into Sutherland Springs Cemetery, then got out of my car to bask in the beauty. Jewel-bright wildflowers — bluebonnets, phlox, Indian paintbrush — flowed in broad rivers around the gravestones, symbolic of life and rebirth among the memorials to the dead.

Did someone sow wildflower seeds here last fall — if so, what a stroke of genius — or did the plants colonize the cemetery naturally? I wondered about this as I walked the periphery.

I spotted newer tombstones among hundred-year-old markers, but I didn’t read many of them.

As I drove away I noticed a historic marker and made a mental note to look up the cemetery’s history when I got home.

When I did, I felt a shock of recollection. How could I have forgotten that tiny Sutherland Springs occupied our national consciousness for a few weeks in early November 2017, when yet another mass shooting happened here — this time, even more horrifically, of worshippers including small children attending church service.

My online search turned up a New York Times article about how the cemetery’s caretakers struggled to handle the burials of so many people all at once, following the slaughter of 26 men, women, and children.

It was heartbreaking all over again. The poignant, transitory beauty of wildflowers among the graves makes me weep for the people of Sutherland Springs who must somehow carry on, and for all of us as we bear witness to so many mass shootings that we forget their names when the next one comes along.

I don’t get into politics here, and I’m not going to start now. (Although why gun violence by mostly disaffected young men has become a partisan issue I do not understand.) But I will say there’s something deeply wrong with our fatalistic response to these recurring nightmares, and we need to find the collective will to take action. Let’s try lots of things to see what makes a difference. What could it hurt?

After all, we are all in this together. We are all Sutherland Springs.