Check in with your strong friend. It’s the mantra you see going around right now. It’s the wrong message. A phone call wouldn’t have cured him. Your strong friend doesn’t need you to make sure they’re not dead, they need authentic human connection.
Celebrities become a friend in common, someone we all know who connects us. If we have nothing else in common, we talk about the love lives and careers of the famous people we all know.When we see one spiraling into depression, it’s usually pretty obvious. Erratic behavior, drug abuse, nonsensical tweeting and an eventual nose dive into some rehab facility.
Losing Anthony Bourdain was a kick in the gut to his fans, and those who felt we had gone on some existential journey with him. You saw him realizing his passions, living his own adventure, and chasing everything that made him feel alive. And when he chased death, he found that, too.
Suicide isn’t about having enough friends, enough money, or enough love for living. Watch him climb a mountain just to sit at someone’s table and eat a casserole and tell me he wasn’t strong. Watch him wade through alligator infested swamp land or cross heavily armed borders to sit with a local and tell me he wasn’t brave. He had money, adventure, freedom, love, and one other thing. Depression. You can’t bury it in your perfect life, you can’t treat it with cash, and you can’t cure it with a call from a friend asking if you’re some mythical “Ok”.
What are we going to do then? I see tributes being made to the man. People creating posts and columns explaining how he changed their life. But did he? Because if he did, the only words on paper you would use as tribute would be your updated passport. Did you learn what he was trying to teach, or did you just watch? Did you live vicariously through his travels? Because that is the opposite of his message. You can’t live life by watching it, you have to do the damn thing.
Breaking Bread and Borders
If you pay attention, you’ll see that his many shows, books, articles, and tirades were only a little bit about food, and a little bit about travel. They were about learning.The way to combat hate is to combat fear. The way to combat fear is to combat ignorance. The way to combat ignorance is to learn about the people we don’t understand. He did that the best way he could, by sharing a meal with a stranger. Yes, he smoked and drank and said fuck a lot, but the truly outlandish thing he did was make friends with people on opposite sides of every conversation.
Somehow both nihilistic and childlike, his curiosity and hope softened the edges burned and battered by years of hard living. It wasn’t that he thought the world was a perfect place, but he saw what makes it suck and he saw the power in each human to make it suck just a little less.
He wanted you to look at what you have and what you can do with it to bring people a little closer together. He had deep appreciation for people, their battles, and the love they brought to the table. He wasn’t fond of Rachel Ray, Applebees, or anyone who profited off of the bastardization of nourishment. He searched for authenticity in more than just the meals he traveled the world to sample, he was sampling humans. Tasting life from every perspective.
If you claim his death as a personal loss, if you want to truly honor him, try to understand what he was trying to show you. You can’t win a war by having dinner with your enemy, but you just might be able to learn something from who you’ve been fighting. You might learn more about why. You might learn that you don’t have nearly as many enemies as you imagined.
Projects like the recent performance art installation Everybody Eats Lunch are an organized attempt to do what Bourdain did every day. To leave your comfort zone and your echo chamber for an hour and learn how to have a conversation with the other side of the table. Eat a meal you couldn’t cook yourself and respect the culture and tradition that put it on your plate. To respect the journey.
If you want to honor him, cross the world or the country or the city and sit in a place you’ve been hesitant to wander. Introduce yourself and open yourself for the experience. Pay attention, respect, and live. One hour at a time.
In a million miles of travel, he learned that you can’t run from your demons – But you can invite them to sit with you, and for just a little while, they won’t be chasing you anymore. It was a long journey, sir. Rest well.