I decided to write to you directly today, because I am trying to figure out how to celebrate your birthday. And I am not sure that I know how, but I know that if I write to you, somehow the answer will come into my head. And maybe that answer will help others who are feeling the same as I am.
Normally when you were alive, we would get to September and many Jordanians would start asking each other how to celebrate your birthday? Just like now. We would plan, we would think, we would share with each other, and we would prepare to celebrate a day that maybe wasn’t your day, it was our day. Because you were our King.
September would inch by, then October would come, and finally November. And then it was the 14th day. Schools were off, and it was a public holiday and a celebration… in every way.
And now as the years have gone by since you passed away, time does not make your passing easier. Since September, I have been thinking of your birthday this year, and every day that drew closer to it, I dreaded the day more. I kept saying to myself, ‘it’s okay to be sad on February 7th, the day Baba died. But on November 14th, I should celebrate his life, and the beginning of the promise that his birth gave us all.’ It didn’t help much though.
And today I saw you everywhere, from the moment I opened my eyes this morning, throughout every second that passed, and in the words or actions of everyone I met. And it made me terribly sad. It took me a while to figure out why…
All these years, I have felt that every year that passes, whether its November 14th or February 7th, both of these are days when I must say goodbye to you again. I feared that somehow, every year that passed, you would become more distant.
But I have realized today, that is not the case at all.
Every night gives way to a new morning; every goodbye beckons another hello. Every parting brings a new reunion, and only those who choose to forget ever need to be obligated to do so.
I do not agree to forget and actually I refuse to forget you.
And you know Baba, the best thing about every birthday of yours? Is that more and more people feel the same way. Not just Jordanians – there are people all over the world – but most importantly Jordanians because we feel your loss more painfully than anyone else.
In April, I had a speech to deliver, and I asked a dear friend of our family, Caroline Faraj, to help me, and she did. After we worked on it together for many days and nights, and it was done, I thanked her. And she cried. Not because I thanked her, but because she said, you had helped her in her life, and she wasn’t helping me, she was proud to return something to someone who had given her the lessons that help her to live her life…. I had a strange feeling at the time. I felt like you were still alive but too far from me to work in a conventional way, but that she had just done what anyone would do for a sister, because to her, you are her father too.
On the 9th of October 2016, I saw a post from a Jordanian, Tariq Asandid, of a camel, that another Jordanian from Ramtha had given as a gift for the poor in your name. I keep the screen shot of that post, a camel in Ramtha who reminds me that there is a man there who loves you as much as I do.
In Haiti, I stood with Major Fawaz Ahmad Al Sirdi, First unit Commander of the Jordanian Peacekeepers, who told me that in the poorest places he had gone in Africa, people had rubbed his arm when they heard he was Jordanian and said, ‘You are Hashemites.’
He told me of his pride, and he repeated to me twice how much this had touched him. It means that he is a Hashemite because he is a member of your family, our family. This is what you are, and by representing you, for the people who try to do that, this is what they become, this is how people see them. Those people thank you every day, Baba, for the respect you have given Jordanians in so many corners of the world. I thought of Fawaz a lot today because I know that he must be feeling the same as I do. And that’s because of you Baba.
You gave us all an identity.
I wish I knew who that man in Ramtha was, and I am sure if I find him, I will learn that he didn’t have much more than that camel to give.
I know that Major Fawaz is in Haiti, fighting to keep people that are not his own people alive and safe, and he served in a long list of countries… more than that… A man… Any man; cannot be asked to give. And the young men that served with him, who stood there in the rain, were the same. They were all so painfully young and they looked so brave. You would be so proud of them, Baba, and there are so many others like them.
They do it, because they are a reflection of you, Baba, and they choose to live by your lessons.
And today, each one of my brothers and sisters, sent me the same message, ‘ Thinking of you today, and love you.’ Isn’t that a funny thing? Every single one of your children: Alia, Abdullah, Feisal, Zein, Aisha, Abir, Ali, Hamzah, Hashem, Iman and Rayah. The exact same message…. Why didn’t that message say, ‘Thinking of Baba today, love you’?
I don’t think they even thought deeply about it when they did it, but rather, they all unconsciously wrote the same thing, because they are living as you lived. They are thinking of others.
So, on November 14th 1935, you were born. Your mother was Queen Zein, and your father was King Talal. You loved them both dearly as you did your brothers and sister, Mohammad, Hassan, and Basma. Your brothers and sister are all still with us, and in them its easiest to see you clearly, and we cherish them.
Your grandfather was the light of your life, HM King Abdullah 1st of Jordan, and his assassination in front of you at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in 1951 was the greatest tragedy of your life.
In every way that day you lost a father, and the man who had shaped you. And in a way, that would have shaken any man to his very core.
Today, I have thought of all you told me about that dreadful day. Because, somehow, I understand that there is a lesson in how you dealt with the loss of King Abdullah the 1st for me, or for us. And that lesson must be the one I should remember when I miss you today.
What was it that you did, when you walked away from the spot where the father in your life was taken away from you violently in front of your eyes? You walked down the airstrip in Jerusalem at 16 years of age, totally alone, knowing that the days before you became King were only a heartbeat away. And you decided to live by King Abdullah’s example.
You understood that day, that being a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, Peace Be Upon Him, and a Hashemite, did not automatically make you what you wanted and needed to be… rather, living your life in a way that embodied and celebrated that lineage in the right way…made you.
Your faith was absolute and unshakeable.
You lived to serve your people, but, more than that, you were one of the people.
You did not need to read the mood of the country, or judge a crowd to know where you stood… You searched to hear the heartbeat of every woman, every man, every child, poor or rich, Bedouin, Circassian, Palestinian, Christian or Muslim… the old were your guides, the young were your future.
You did not ask your people for loyalty, instead you were fiercely loyal to them. But you were also human. You fought hard, and you always wanted to do better, not for yourself but for Jordan.
You touched every life in our Jordan. There was not a family in the country that did not have a member with a story to tell of being with you, a memory to treasure. And that was the time you were truly happy, when you were a man with his family, the tribes, the army, the villagers, downtown laughing with the taxi drivers…
And as a leader it was that deep voice of yours that perfectly captured the feelings of our people as you laid the path for our nation. People felt pride and they readily loved you, because your values were their values. And your voice was the accumulation of their voices defined by the time you spent with them. Your voice was one you allowed them to shape and craft with their own perspective of life. The path you chose was not always the easy path, it was the righteous one, and people respected that.
You defined in this way, what Jordan was, but you also defined what Jordan still is.
So why does it seem so urgent to remember you more in the tomorrows than it did in the yesterdays gone?
Maybe because our Jordan has always been the most strong and robust, but fragile thing there ever was. As Jordanians, we have never had a moment that was not defined by challenges that we faced as a nation, and that’s what makes us who we are. You taught us to fight together to protect our nation, and our values. And we always have overcome, all that stood before us. A small country that dared to be proud, and always has been.
The todays are no different, our recent years have been marked by new people who have come to us to seek refuge. Baba, your people are again in this, a reflection of you. They have welcomed everyone who has come into our country, and their own sacrifice as a nation has been greater than anyone could ask. You would be proud of Jordanians, especially the weakest in our society, who suffer silently.
You taught us to welcome the poor and the homeless, but you also taught us not to lose our identity in the process. The values of your life are the key to who we are, because they are a reflection of how our nation was built. And they are an echo of one voice – your voice – but in that voice is the echo of every Jordanian who helped build our nation.
Baba, you are who we are and what we can never afford to lose.
Today should be a public holiday in Jordan, and I hope that next year will be. It needs to be said, because today is the day that celebrates the birth of our nation, and makes us who we are. Today is the key to our unity, our solidarity, and our future.
Today I am remembering you Baba, a human being that tried harder than any man could try… A man who pushed himself past and beyond a burden that was reasonable for any human to bear… A person who gave more than any person can ever be asked to give… A man who was more tolerant, humble, and kind than any of us ever hope to be.
Today I want to celebrate that you came into the world, Baba, and I don’t want to be sad anymore, because nobody can take you away from me, not unless I let you go. And I won’t let you go, because all around me is evidence…
Everywhere I look around me, other Jordanians are celebrating you too, not just today, but just like you did with your loss… in the way they choose to live.
Today may mark who we are, but most people remember you every day, because you are who they try to be.
Happy birthday Baba, from all of us who will never let you go.
I love you,