It has been just over one week since the Royal Palace issued the official announcement of the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX. Since then, the entire country has been plunged into deep mourning for this beloved monarch who reigned as king for more than 70 years. He was already king when I arrived in Thailand at the tender age of one. Throughout my life, I have heard stories of the amazing things he has done for this nation and for its people. He was born in the USA while his father was studying at Harvard Medical School. He was raised and educated in Switzerland. He never expected to be king and only ascended to the throne when his older brother’s life was unexpectedly cut short in 1946. A trained engineer, an accomplished musician and a man with a a deep sense of responsibility for this nation, this king has guided this nation through difficult and challenging times, giving it a long period of relative stability and prosperity even as it neighbors in Southeast Asia were struggling.
I was surprised at how hard the news of this king’s death hit me. He had been in poor health for several years and the news of his death did not come as a surprise. But tears flowed freely as I fought thousands of others who were using their cell phones as I tried to contact my brothers and sister in the USA to share the news with them. We all grew up here in Thailand and had (and still have) deep friendships among the Thai people. When the Church of Christ in Thailand – the national ecumenical Protestant church – invited me to return to Thailand in 2011 to serve in ministry here, I came eagerly and with great hope – hope born of a deep respect for this nation, the Thai people and their amazing monarch. As I have traveled extensively throughout Thailand in these past five years, I have inquired, seen, explored and come to know many of the projects and programs that sprang from the mind of this great man and his love for this nation. The cost of many of these projects and programs was underwritten by the Royal Treasury so as not to place a undue burden on the Thai people. All of them were designed to improve the quality of life for Thai people. The photograph posted here is one of the favorites of the Thai people, for it is the first photograph that shows a reigning Thai monarch perspiring – one measure of his great effort on their behalf.
Anyone watching television programs or reading the newspaper in recent days can see an untold number of photographs and videos recounting the work of this great king. And it is impossible to walk the streets without seeing the deep respect and love of this people for their late king. It is not just that everyone is wearing black. It is in the subdued way that people are carrying on with their lives. It is in the number of people who have turned out to stand in long lines in the hot sun and pouring rain to pay their respects at the Grand Palace where the late king’s body lies in state. It is in the tears that flowed freely when more than 300,000 people came to Sanam Luang (the Royal Parade Ground) by the Grand Palace just to sing the Royal Anthem this past Saturday. It is in the glow of thousands of candles that are lighted each evening outside the walls of the Grand Palace. It is in the countless stories about the monarch that are being shared at meals and in gathering places both glamorous and humble across this nation. People have been asked to wear black for 30 days. Many will wear black for a year. People have been asked to reschedule weddings and other celebrations in order to show respect during this 30-day period. Visitors to Thailand will not have access to the Grand Palace or other tourist venues during this time of mourning. I can say that, no matter how long the official time of mourning will be, the Thai people will mourn the passing of this king for years to come. I know I will.