The Light of the World- Elizabeth Alexander 

“I’m grateful for the tug of the day that gets us out of bed and propels us into our lives and responsibilities; memory can be a weight on that. And yet, in it floods, brought willfully, or brought on by a glimpse, a glance, a scent, a sound.”

This was a sensitive and very touching look into Elizabeth Alexander’s life, losing her beloved husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus, very suddenly at a relatively young age. Recently I read Roland Barthes’ beautiful “Mourning Diary” about the death of his mother; “The Light of the World” seemed to be a more in-depth look at the mourning process in our age, taking into account additional things like culture, diversity, and migration. “Mourning Diary” was written by a philosopher/linguist, this memoir by an artist about an artist. It shows by the vibrancy in the words despite the loss, and the sense of loss experienced.

This book had so much love in it. Love between family, friends, parents and children, but most of all the love Elizabeth had with Ficre. This was such a wonderful testament to their life together, short but so full and abundant. I think it was a testament to them as parents that they recognized their different histories and went about selecting and harmonizing aspects of their cultures to share with their children and those around them:

“That was the interesting idea of us: East and West Africa married, descendants of slaves who survived, descendants of free people of colour, descendants of freedom fighters never enslaved, the strongest of all to be conjoined in our children.”

This book seemed to be almost an amalgamation of the things I’ve thought about in the past few months. Dealing with recent loss in my own family, meditating on this loss, thinking about diasporic experiences,  memories,  grief…

When someone dies, the art, poetry, music, and plays that they loved are left behind and how we see them change. I think about death in this new age, the age of text messaging, digital photography. What do we leave behind and in what forms/mediums?

I think about the importance of food and drink as cultural and also as comfort.

I think about my own cultural and migratory history  and how my body carries all that within it.

This book was a very moving testament to an obviously very special and beloved man. Despite the tragic loss of Ficre, I see this as a very hopeful book. I’d recommend it to anyone.

“What a profound mystery it is to me, the vibrancy of presence, the realness of it, and then, gone.

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