By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Finally it was time to go. As we walked to the door, the king asked if I’d send him a book on the interpretation of dreams we’d discussed earlier. "Sometimes it’s hard for me to shop," he said, then told me about an incident, on a trip to New York City, in which he’d expressed the desire to visit Abercrombie & Fitch. (The king was an avid sportsman.) But when he got there, security-minded American officials made everyone leave and filled the store with Secret Service agents. "I felt so badly for the sales people," he said. "I just bought the first thing I saw and left."
At the door the king kissed my hand solemnly and said, "I feel like I’ve known you forever." Good line, I thought. But it wasn’t a line, not really. It wasn’t any kind of pass. Hussein was a man looking for a friend.
The next day I was packing my bags when I got a call from Fouad Ayoub, the king’s press secretary, a lively Stanford-educated man with a fondness for Wittgenstein. "I understand you are leaving Jordan tomorrow," Ayoub said. "I am calling to tell you, His Majesty would like it very much if you would stay."
I panicked. "Oh, I couldn’t," I said. "I have a nonrefundable ticket."
"We could change your ticket," said Ayoub. Duh. Could I possibly sound any stupider? "Thank the king for his kindness," I blurted. "But I must return home." The truth was, I was unnerved by the sense that, if I didn’t leave, I might find myself somehow in over my head. Like I said, I was young.
In the decades between then and now, I’ve often wondered if I should have grabbed the chance to know this extraordinary man better. In any case, five months after I left Jordan, I received an invitation to Hussein’s wedding to Lisa Halaby, the beautiful young American woman now rechristened Noor al-Hussein, light of Hussein. By that time, I’d written my article and put away all my notes and transcripts in fat file folders, where they remained for the next 20 years.
Three weeks ago, when the world knew for sure the king was dying, I pulled out the folders and read through page after page of Hussein’s words. Much of what he’d said was pegged to the events of the day, and had now lost its importance. Other things, when viewed through the lens of time, stood out in poignant relief.
For example, I’d asked him if he would ever want one of his sons to be king. He didn’t know, he said. "I’m not sure I would wish any of them such a burden."
At another point, I’d asked him my version of the Barbara Walters question (If-you-could-be-a-tree-what-kind-of-tree-would-you-be?): What would he do if a fairy godmother offered him a single wish? What would he ask for? "I’d like to feel that, after all these years," he said, "one has left something behind. A feeling that people will remember one well, that one would have contributed toward a better future, a more stable future. And peace, if possible. I would wish that all those involved will have the courage to take a gamble on peace. It’s the worthiest of gambles. That’s my dearest wish of all."
Back then, Hussein’s answer struck my editor as glib and politic. Looking at it now, I think the king was telling the truth. However absurdly anachronous his belief in his family’s divine right to rule, he held to the notion with a passionate and guileless sincerity, then bet the entirety of his life on the hope he could make it count for something good.
Like others, I watched the king’s funeral on CNN, fascinated by the panoply of new friends and old enemies who gathered to say goodbye: Assad, Arafat, the Americans, the Israelis — all those who had agreed and disagreed with him, those who’d actively tried to overthrow him. In the end, they honored him because, for all his mistakes, for all his victories, they understood he was kind, brave, full of heart, a decent man in an arena where such men are in far too short supply. And for that he’ll be remembered. By me. By everyone.