I can’t seem to stop thinking about Anthony Bourdain. I know I’m not unique in this. Nearly everywhere I look there’s a story from someone about how he inspired that person, or a quote, or a picture. His departure has affected a great many of us.
And I didn’t want to write about how his passing affected me, because I was terrified that it might sound so trite…that it was irrelevant to the conversation…that so many more must be suffering so much more that to say my piece would be trivial, somehow. But I have to say it for me, and so I am.
I was deeply saddened by the news. I am more saddened with each day, as it becomes more real, more solid. And I wasn’t even a superfan. I didn’t see every episode of his show. I never read his book.
But he was someone I knew of, off in the world, exploring what it had to offer and bringing his own contribution to it. Someone I looked up to just in the knowing of what he was doing. I watched the episode of his show about Ghana before I went on my trip to prepare myself for it, and to let myself know about what behind-the-scenes things I should be aware of before I embarked on my journey, because I was certain from his reputation that the show would give me just that.
And it did. In it, he talked a lot about palm wine. And because he talked a lot about palm wine, I tried it at my first opportunity. I never would have known about it beforehand if not for watching his show. And so while I might have tried it anyway, I wouldn’t have done so with the gusto I did after having seen his enjoyment of it.
I hated the taste of it the second it hit my lips, true. But I had an appreciation for it that surfaced as a result of his deep enjoyment of it — and a curiosity about the drink thanks to his exploration of it that never would have existed otherwise.
I’m so very sorry that he is gone. I feel the loss. I hate to say that, because sometimes I see people talking about this kind of thing and think to myself, they’re just espousing pain for show — for the sake of hopping on the pain bandwagon and being a party to the open-faced grief the world is saying is in vogue right now.
But, fuck it all, here I am saying: I’m really sad right now. It’s a damn shame that someone I felt like knew what it was to be alive took his own life. It’s demoralizing. It’s not fucking fair.
A lot of people struggle with depression and anxiety. I am one of them. I don’t talk about it much because I feel it is a very private matter. I have a therapist. I meditate. I do yoga. I exercise. I work on it. And I have to believe that the culmination of all of these things is going to be enough to keep me here, where I feel that I can do a lot of good. I know I have so much within myself to give, and I am determined to take every second I’m given and spend it toward that end.
Anthony’s life was not my life. I have no idea what demons he was dealing with, and never will. Depression and anxiety and mental illness in all its nefarious shapes and forms are inherently a private matter, regardless of what someone shares with anyone else. Each new day brings a fresh set of thoughts and feelings to experience, to process, to move through. It would be impossible to keep your nearest and dearest abreast of every impulse, emotion, and thought, even if you wanted to.
And so I guess where I’m going with this is, goddammit, I’m so sad he said goodbye to us, because he embodied so much of what so many travelers and humans in general hope to be. But I know I can’t judge his decision. I can only make my own, and try to sway others in the same direction. To that end, I say this:
Stay a while. Sometimes it’s hard to be here, even though it might seem as if it should be easy. Even though things are going well. Even though you aren’t starving and aren’t living in a war-torn country and aren’t being actively persecuted and aren’t living in a society where you’ll be forced to marry someone twice your age whom you’ve never met. It’s OK that things are hard even if none of those aforementioned atrocities are your personal hardships, and others that are even more heinous are also outside of your periphery. Your pain is still relevant. It still matters.
And it’s passing. Believe it or not, it isn’t forever. There is relief on the other side, and even joy. Just breathe for a minute. Do it with me. In. Out.
We need you here with us. You have so much to give. And the first of those gifts is just to be. Just to stay a little while longer, and take a breath, and join us all for another day.
A deep thank-you to everyone who does this even though it’s hard and, at times, may feel damned near impossible.
And also a thank-you for those of you who have read this whole thing. I needed to write it to quell my own grief, and your reading of it has healing properties.