I’ve never been one to mourn celebrities. Though I always feel sorrow for the deceased’s friends and family, for those who actually loved and breathed them, I never understood how people could be upset by the loss of someone they’d never met.
And then Anthony Bourdain died.
He had long been my dream travel partner: hungry, funny, sexy, curious — with a magnetic charm that transcended languages and borders.
First I read his book. I learned about big city restaurants and big-headed chefs, which were so different than the establishments at which I’d worked. I learned to add shallots, and butter, and thinly-sliced garlic to everything I cooked.
Then I watched his shows. I reveled in his ability to connect with people no matter where they were from. I reveled in his lyrical descriptions of food and destinations, in the way he helped you truly taste a place with just a few sentences.
I admired the way he spoke up for others, for those who didn’t have a voice: from busboys to waitresses and line cooks, from octogenarians to abused women.
And though I’m sad about his loss, of course, for everyone who knew him, I am also sad about the loss of what he represented. He was the tattooed, charismatic, say-anything embodiment of the travel I espouse; the traveler we all hope to be.
He didn’t go places to take selfies, shop for souvenirs, or lounge at a walled-off resort. He went because he wanted to devour the world: to eat its food, meet its people, get drunk off its booze and sounds and colors.
Unlike all the other glossy, overproduced travel shows, he shared travel as it really was: mesmerizing and shitty, exhausting and ebullient, full of unexpected moments that change everything.
He made us less afraid of other cultures and flavors; he showed us the human in everyone.
And he will be so missed.
Years ago, his death would probably have surprised me more, but hit me less. I used to be so optimistic about the world and the future…
Then life happened. Over and over again. I talk to my friends, and many say the same thing: No one told us life would be this hard.
And that’s coming from the incredibly lucky ones: the privileged kids who have never gone hungry, who have always had people to lean on, who didn’t see life in all its ugliness for a long, blissful time.
Throughout this whole week — which, as you know, included the suicide of Kate Spade, as well — I’ve returned again and again to A Little Life, the dark and powerful novel by Hanya Yanagihara.
This passage sums up exactly how I am feeling right now:
“It was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it. We all cling to it; we all search for something to give us solace.”
So let us not spew platitudes, or hide behind our phones.
Let us instead cling to each other. Let us find solace in shared meals, in conversations with strangers who become friends, in exploring new places without an itinerary.
Let us end the stigmatization of mental health issues; let us support the people we think need it, and the people we think never will. Let us call and text, help them get help, give more hugs.
And tonight, let us make food and laughter and love, and raise a glass to somehow figuring out a way to get through this life — with and for each other.
If you need someone to talk to, my inbox is always open. As is Talkspace and the Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). To support suicide prevention, please consider donating to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.