Thursday, October 26, 2017

Requiem For a Thai King


My wife was born and raised in Thailand. For seventy years, the Thai people revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej as a veritable demigod. He died last October, and Thais have mourned his passing ever since. This includes those who live outside Thailand. My wife has lived in the U.S. since 2001, and she has mourned her king probably as much as most people inside or outside Thailand.

Today the late king's remains were cremated near Bangkok's Grand Palace. This marked the culmination of a spectacularly lavish funeral ceremony which drew hundreds of thousands to the ceremony itself and millions more throughout Thailand and the world to sites where they could gather to pay final respects to the king.

My wife accompanied several from her local Thai Buddhist temple and a thousand or more other people from the Bay Area and beyond to attend one such event last night outside San Francisco City Hall. Judging from her accounts and from photos and videos published on social media, it was a solemnly beautiful, candlelit affair brimming with emotion I can only begin to imagine, since I did not grow up under a king who served as the spiritual father and cultural glue of my own homeland.

However, I do feel some vicarious grief from the mourning of the Thai people for their king. And I take some poignant pleasure in being able to modestly share in their and my wife's powerful experience of loss. A vital part of being a human inhabiting this earth is feeling intense grief and tenderness toward those communally sharing our grief with us. Perhaps the closest thing in my own prior experience to partaking in this magnitude of communal grief came in the wake of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

This, at least for the time being, supersedes my reservations against venerating monarchs and against the fearsomely harsh laws in Thailand prohibiting even the faintest intimation of insult directed at the king or royal family. It also overshadows, for now, my concerns about the potential unrest if not worse that could consume Thailand after being held in abeyance for the past year by the official mourning period.

That period officially ended today. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? I'll worry about that "tomorrow," but not today.

2 comments:

Thomas Armstrong said...

Steve, I like how you have the right attitude toward this sad event -- the death of the venerated King.

I suppose that due to my highly egalitarian sensibilities, I might be less mournful and respectful than you had I been fully in your position.

Steve said...

That is certainly understandable, Tom. If I weren't married to a Thai woman and hadn't spent time in Thailand as well as around many Thais here in America, my own "egalitarian sensibilities" would probably lessen, to the point of vanishingly small magnitude, my own attentiveness to and empathy for the Thai people's mourning. But I consider my life and being enriched by my acquaintance with Thai culture and people and by the grief that I empathically feel for the lingering grief of millions of Thais over Rama IX's passing.