Grief and the Illusion of Infinity

The Chandelier of Grief

Yayoi Kusama is a 95-year-old Japanese artist who creates installations known as infinity mirrors.

Stefan Zweig was one of the most prolific writers of his day, an Austrian Jew who committed suicide in 1942 at the height of World War 2.

Lavel Davis was one of the members of the University of Virginia football team killed Sunday night in yet another senseless mass shooting.

In my mind over the last few days, these seemingly disconnected people have converged.

It started last week when I visited an infinity mirror exhibit called The Chandelier of Grief at the Tate Modern. In a darkened room, mirrors reflected spinning chandeliers creating the illusion of infinity. Per Kusama, this particular infinity mirror is a reminder that beauty can still exist during times of great sadness—pin pricks of light echoing against the blackness of grief.

It’s a topic that my family has talked about periodically in the 3 1/2 years since my grandson, Jack, faced an uphill battle against a rare and aggressive cancer. Jack’s cancer forged our personal Chandelier of Grief—the blackness of a devastating illness flickered with enhanced moments of unadulterated joy. I thought of this dichotomy as I watched the shards of light spinning through the black void.

Afterwards, over lunch in the Tate, I read a book by Stefan Zweig about the 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne. The book was written in 1941 at a time when Zweig was comparing the religious wars of Montaigne’s era with the similar intolerance of World War 2. It was in this comparison that Zweig wrote:

For it’s always that way with the sacred value of life. We forget it as long as it belongs to us, and give it as little attention during the unconcerned hours of our life as we do the stars in the light of day. Darkness must fall before we are aware of the majesty of the stars above our head.

Here it was again. This concept of darkness magnifying the light. In that moment I thought, I need to write about this.

Then Lavel was killed.

The Thursday Hero

It was a year ago that Jack was the Thursday hero of the University of Virginia football team. He was finally in a good place health-wise and had just celebrated his 6th birthday. We were invited to spend the morning with the team at their practice complex.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting a group of young men who were engaged and engaging, kind, and flawlessly polite, but that’s exactly what I found.

Among the scores of outstanding men who we met that day, one stood out. His name was Lavel Davis. As Lavel and Jack ran in circles around the field, I talked with an assistant coach. He told me that while Lavel was certainly a talented receiver, what distinguished him as a recruit was all the rest of it—his character, his personality. He was “the complete package.”

Lavel tossed the ball to Jack. More times than not, Jack dropped it. Yet they kept at it. Lavel loping along like a gazelle. Jack trotting like a kid who had spent a year of his life in bed. Jack and Lavel played even after most of the team had gone into the locker room.

As I look back on that day, I recognize that Lavel was a shard of light during the darkest time in my life. For this, I will never forget him.

It’s been a difficult week in Charlottesville. We are now the latest community reeling in the aftermath of yet another incidence of the gun violence pulsing across America.

Yet in my mind, I can still see two kids jogging across a field, tossing a ball. I remember the sweet innocence of it all. One of the unconcerned hours of our lives masquerading as infinity.

Categories: Ruminations

Tags: , ,

10 replies

  1. What a sad but beautiful post. Thank you.

    Mary Korbulic Ordinary Life


  2. Heart-wrenching and beautiful at the same time. And thank you for bringing the young man in the news stories back to life in a meaningful, vividly personal way. ♥️

  3. Thank you Julie. Your post is so beautiful, it.made me cry. I prayed for Jack, now I will add Lavel to my prayer list, ❤️❤️

  4. Another beautiful post, Julie……thank you for sharing……wishing you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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