FLOWERS by the road, blooming vibrantly in seeming defiance of their silent message.

It is impossible to drive in Scotland and not know what flowers by the road portend. They speak of tragedy.

A glimpse of a splash of colour on a motorway bridge induces a sudden horror. Did someone jump?

The clutch of flowers on that deceptive bend in Cadder is complemented by mangled wall or railing. Is it the final echo of that metal-shearing crash?

That display of flowers on the railings next to the railway station, did it signify a suicide, a car crash, a frantic and fatal assault?

This week there was another. Always another.

Flowers by the road, on a stretch leading into the west end of Glasgow. A set of traffic lights is garlanded in bouquets, flowers tied to the fence, with a group of teenagers gazing into some indistinct space. There is a photographer, there is a sense of something being recorded, something or someone being honoured.

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My car flashes by this scene. It remains in the memory. It is impossible to view such sadness, however briefly, and not be touched by it.

The marking of tragedy is as old as mankind itself. It is how we try to match the senseless with some sort of sensitivity. It is how we attempt to face horror with a sense of purpose and community.

Let us go together. Let us make a gesture. It is the least we can do, perhaps all we can do.

The placing of flowers as a sign of respect and mourning is traditional. Flowers by the road is, though, a relatively modern phenomenon as a means of marking death.

It has been criticised as inappropriate or deeply mawkish. In contrast, I find these scenes moving, poignant and illustrative of what is significant to the bystanders and those most grievously wounded by tragedy, that is, those who live on when their brother, sister, son or daughter has died at an unconscionably early age.

For those who lay the tributes, it fills that human need to recognise loss. The fatalities seem almost always to be among the young. The loss of their friends is shocking, premature.

There has to be some ritual to mark such a death. It was once the preserve of organised religion. It sometimes still is. But flowers by the road is also intensely religious in that it recognises the ultimate reality of death, however early in life, and, in a blessed twist, shows it is futile to try to make sense of it. It seeks, too, to bring mourners together in the most secular and mundane of settings.

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There they gather, at traffic lights, by a crushed wall, or on a hard shoulder, consoling each other, physically marking what has been irredeemably lost.

It has an effect, too, on those who merely drive by. There is the prurient, perhaps unworthy need to discover more. What happened? Who did it happen to? Why? How?

The details leak out, sometimes unreliably, on social media. Traditional media pick up on these threads and knit them into something comprehensible and adhering to legal constraints. This knowledge does not, of course, address the anguish. The victims may be unknown but their death cannot be passed over, cannot be consigned to a lockfast space in memory, at least not immediately.

Part of this is the reality of passing the flowers on a daily basis. The journey home through Cadder, the trip into the west end, the run along the motorway, all speckled by that splash of fading colour.

It denotes that tragedy is defiantly resilient. It dims, of course, for the driver going about his daily duties.

But what of those most affected? I am drawn to this thought on every occasion where the flowers bloom unnaturally on mesh or fence.

There is distinguished research that suggests that it is helpful for the bereaved to visit the scenes where their loved ones lost their lives.

But how do they react at these informal memorials to the victims? Are they a comfort? Does the knowledge that their loved one prompted a primitive if sincere memorial provide some balm?

Or are they just another reminder of what and who is gone, and never to return?

The reality is that the pain dulls for those on the periphery. The school friends will look back in decades and remember that funny guy who met his end in a tragic collision. Or that young driver who lost his life on that tricky bend. Or the relentlessly upbeat girl who went for a walk one night...and what happened? What did she do and why?

The memories of the survivors will be fond, flecked by fleeting pain. The memories of the passer-by, on foot and in car, will remain reverent but dimmed by time.

The true bereaved will suffer on. Time is not the healer that many insist. There are those today who are different now from how they were a week ago. There are those who believe nothing will ever be the same, nothing will ever be joyous.

It is blasphemy to say they are wrong. It ignores the benighted legacy that such unforeseen tragedy bequests.

The flowers by the roadside will fade. But their tattered and shrivelled aspect carries another message. Their fragility is in contrast to the potency of memory and painful emotion. Flowers wilt. Grief is impervious to time, oblivious to wind or rain, sunshine or shower.

Our columns are platforms for writers to express their opinions.They not necessarily represent the views of The Herald