Born in Al-Salt, Jordan to Salameh and Najla Al-Naber, Suleiman had 10 siblings, all of whom he held close to his heart.
Suleiman was blessed to marry the indomitable Firyal Al-Naber on July 1, 1966 and to have been part of a beautiful community of family and friends in San Francisco and Orange County.
With my mother, my partner Atef, and my brothers and their life partners, I join you in grieving the loss of our beloved Suleiman. Yet we are also grieving what began two years ago when Sol’s illness took away his ability to walk, talk, and joke—what we all know were his life and his breath. Yet the past two years also gave us the greatest gift. When we came to know Suleiman without his words, we were introduced to his inner-self, the core of who he was. There, we found unimaginable warmth, mind-boggling joy, and an inconceivable ability to find genuine peace and love in pain and illness. There, we witnessed Sol’s invincible smile fill the spaces between his silence.
Many of you might think of Sol as a farmer. He was an expert in growing and picking produce.
He once told me, “In the outdoors, I forget myself. I feel happy when I’m in my garden.”
And he taught us how to distinguish between Cara Cara and Blood Oranges; Persian and Armenian Cucumbers; and Brown Turkey and Black Mission Figs.
And then there was cheese and the olives and the meats.
According to Suleiman the ultimate foodie:
Always buy the best.
Never pay full price.
Add garlic to your pizza.
Only wood fired.
Only thin crust.
You’re gonna let them steal your money by ordering a bunch of dough?
Slightly burned. But if they burn it too much or too little, send it back. The customer is always right.
He learned from his father who used to go down to the Jordan Valley to buy the trees to plant on his land in Al-Salt.
But what if I reminded you that farmers are sedentary? That they sit still and are calm and patient as they sit back and wait for their results?
You might then realize what I did a few days ago when I stumbled across an old photo of Sol’s father, my grandfather Salameh, standing between my brother and I, each of us holding the dead pigeons he hunted in our little hands.
I realized that Sol is not exactly a farmer and might be better described as a hunter.
Think about it.
Hunters don’t sit back patiently waiting around for the hunt. They have to act, move, and think creatively—come up with new ideas; and take chances. And they enjoy all that excitement.***
It was Sol’s inner-hunter that made him one of the most remarkable people any of us have ever known. Sol was a no fear thrill-seeker in constant motion. A free spirit bravely roaming and dancing the streets and the world; clever and witty with the most brilliant biting and playful jokes so that even when he would turn one of his customers into the laughing stock of the year, they would come back the next day for more.
And how about his endless creative ideas? Like when he put his eye on our neighbors fig trees and next thing you know, they were transplanted to our yard.I attribute the unconventional accomplishments of my brothers and I to Baba’s unconditional support–waking up at 4:00 am for decades to run his store–and to his creative genius. He taught us to be fearless visionaries who don’t wait around for permission but take action. None of us work 9-5 jobs. We are creative adventurers who think outside the box…because of him.
This week, people have been coming out of the woodwork about Sol’s extreme generosity and support. They are saying things I had not expected…like:
Sol is my parent! Sol raised me! Sol fed me! Sol supported me! Sol did not only put food on the table for his own wife and kids but also for his tribe and for his people.
Of course, the greatest gratitude in all of this goes to my phenomenal mother Firyal, Sol’s selfless caretaker, wife, and friend who stood by his side through thick and thin and kept him company with bravery, an open heart, and unending peace, prayer, and resilience. I can only hope that one day, I will be as selfless and humble as her.
I cannot thank all of Sol’s beloved friends and all of you who supported my parents during challenging times, but I must recognize Jose Mendez, the caregiver who treated Sol like he was his own father.
I have no doubt Sol’s grandchildren—Kadin, Kelsey, Wyatt, Kinan, and Nile–will carry on everything he taught us about dreaming, striving, and giving and about finding joy in all the little things.
So from here onwards, when you think of Suleiman, I hope you will find that feel-good sense of relief that overcomes anyone who sees his smile flashing across his beautiful face.I hope you will continue to feel intoxicated by his unrelenting passion for life.I hope you will all learn from him—to be exactly who you are. To see your time on this earth as limited and to not waste it. To love life so much that it spills over onto everyone around you.
May each of you find Sol’s forever smile whenever you eat a fig or look into the mirror or whenever you look up at the sky—in a rainbow or in the moonlight. I know he will be there smiling back at you. He may even call out to you saying: “You know, You’re so stupid!” as he laughs at and with you.
So let us celebrate his life and his endless gifts.
the optimistic giver…the nomadic dreamer…and the life of the party.
You will always be my sunshine and my guiding light.
May your light, and your smile, shine on…forever in our hearts.
To honor his legacy, we created the Suleiman Al-Naber Arab Student Award, a fund that will assist the recipient, an Arab student at UIC, with their tuition on an annual basis.
Please donate to the fund if you can here:
Please follow the instructions from there.
In Loving Memory
Suleiman Salameh Al-Naber
His Smile Lives On
Forever in our Hearts
***I borrowed the idea of the farmer vs. the hunter from Michael Ferguson’s book, The Drummer and the Great Mountain (2015) where he discussed neurodiversity/diverse brain types. Michael Ferguson draws upon the farmer vs. hunter theory developed by Thomas Hartmann.