In the 1920's, department stores in the United States still had "mourning" sections. Stocked with a somber selection of black garments and accessories. Death, and the subsequent grieving process, had not yet been reduced to a day, or weekend.
I arrived in Thailand almost a year ago to the day, to find an entire nation shroud in black. Black arm bands and ribbons, ties and slacks, skirts, dresses, t-shirts and hats. Swaths of obsidian fabric draped along bridges, wrapped around lamp poles, hung from facades. Thais of every generation were in mourning....and would be, as declared by the government, for an entire year. In just two weeks after the death of their widely beloved King, it was as if the country had been dipped into a well of black ink and pulled back out.
King Rama IX was the longest standing monarch in the world. A true renaissance man in every sense of the overused cliche. He's credited by many to have brought Thailand into the modern world. Put Bangkok against any other metropolis in the group of developing nations of SE Asia and you'll feel the gravity of that accreditation. Juxtapose Thailand's relative peace to the bloody fractioning of its neighbors, and one might too praise his achievement of a unified land. Certainly I, and millions of other travelers over the past three decades, wouldn't have enjoyed the beauty of their landscape without his stability and guidance.
Seven years ago I started wearing black. If one didn't know, you might think it was a fashion choice. I wanted people to feel my grief without having to talk about it, and historically, that was the point, right? It was a coping tool built into our culture, and societies across the world. I don't understand why Americans have grown away from it. Have you lost someone you've loved? What's more important than that space and permission to grieve? It is everything. In the U.S. we celebrate birth with baby showers, week long birthday celebrations, cakes, colors, and gifts...yet we stuff death into a stiff black suit for two days of funerals and wakes. The imbalance is elephantine.
Somehow black stuck on me. Maybe it's the ease...what's simpler than looking in your closet and matching black with black? Either way, when I touched down in Bangkok I didn't need a wardrobe change to pay my respects. It actually felt nice, to mourn. To extend empathy to others through color and silence. Now a year later, as the last few days of their year long observation draw to a close and Thais visually make the transition out of grief, I wonder who, too, the color of mourning may stick with....who's grief can't be socially or governmentally mandated to a day or a year.