“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” ― Anthony Bourdain, from Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
When I was a child, I always hated the sound of the phone at 2 or 3 AM in the morning. You knew something was wrong because people just don’t call at that time of the night. What I thought was incredibly callous and stupid was the fact that if this was the death of somebody you love, why would you awaken their living loved ones and disturb their sleep to tell them that So-and-so had died? Will the news miraculously bring them back to life? Unless they have asked you to call them the moment someone dies, let them sleep because they will need their energy to mourn and get through their feelings about the one that has left. There is nothing you can do for the dead. So much you can do for the living.
In retrospect, that was the first time my mind started working like Anthony Bourdain’s. My statement may not work for everyone, some may see it as cruel, but I said it and for those of you that get it, let’s share a bottle of wine in honor of the Chef.
When I woke up, I picked up my phone off the nightstand and there was only 1 news alert from several agencies, but only CNN caught my eye because he was “theirs”. Anthony Bourdain died of suicide at 61. I was shaken, stirred, and disturbed and in my best Bourdainism said, “What the fuck?”
Celebrity deaths affect some of us differently, some not at all. The loss of Kate Spade this week shined a light on suicide, art, commerce, and family. I felt for the family. As far as we know, her pain had ceased at her chosen moment of escape. The pain is deep when a parent chooses to leave a child and family, far deeper than most of us can ever imagine. Its a part of the human struggle I don’t want to participate in.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” ― from No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach
Bourdain’s death was a little different. Here was a man who had the coolest job on the planet. He had massive rock star god swagger, he was respected by the famous, and by those of us not so famous, but he left the people he encountered feeling as if they met the “real deal” if there ever was one. He called a spade a spade and didn’t mince words. His palette orgasms where a thing to behold and I am sure he dreamt of fried pork bellies after an evening of consuming far too much alcohol in some dark yet loud and lively location in some part of the world. A part of the world that most of us wouldn’t even have the balls to visit, and somewhere you would give your right arm just to be sitting at when dinner is served.
He seemed to have had everything, any man would want and he was on the right side of EVERY humanistic issue you could imagine from #MeToo to genocide, communism, Africa, the Middle East, places where people were not viewed as humans…he humanized them for us. Bourdain let us know that to know a person, to truly know them, ask them about what they like to eat and eat their food. He taught a world short on empathy and respect, how to elevate both.
I have always been a good cook, secretly there is a Chef living inside me. I love when people eat my food. Being a Chef is an art form. My late wife was a Chef. She could cook ANYTHING. Imagine living with a personal chef who could make anything you desire. Chinese, Indian, Italian a simple steak and nail it perfectly, every time. Betty had that skill, that passion for food, she was a culinary scientist, a natural, someone who understood what food meant to the preparer and to the recipient. Food is an act of love. Taking the time to prepare something flavourful, delicate and highly edible only to know that it will turn to fertilizer or (horrors) be disliked….is a risk in itself.
My late wife committed a slow and painful suicide. She literally drank herself to death. She was a highly functional alcoholic. Brilliant, insightful, extraordinarily beautiful yet wracked with pain. A pain so deep and dark that not even the support of someone whom she knew loved her would deter her from her chosen fate.
She suffered from depression, dark mood swings and sometimes mixed her medications with her alcohol. Despite tries at rehab and a wonderful counselor and doctor who told her bluntly that if you stay on this path you will die, she could only hear the call of the spirits in the glass she pulled to her beautiful lips at will. She chose to self-medicate, to numb the pain she was feeling.
She took her life, slowly, painfully until her renal system said ENOUGH. The struggle was private, if you saw her—if you saw us—people thought that we were the perfect couple. Yes, we had problems (all couples do) but they were “ours” and we dealt with them the best way we knew how.
It’s hard watching someone you love die. It’s harder to watch them die slowly at their own hands.
“I’ll be right here. Until they drag me off the line. I’m not going anywhere. I hope. It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”― Anthony Bourdain
There are memes all across the internet that speak to how we should be kind to everyone because we don’t know what their struggle is. Did people outside my marriage know what Betty was struggling with? No, and for the most part, they only were concerned with what was in front of them in their own lives. Did we know that, despite massive success, Bourdain would choose to leave this life and move on? No. Did we know that this famous raconteur, rock star of a man about town, always on the right side white soul brother was in such darkness that even when handed the world on a silver platter, it wasn’t enough to make him want to stay? No.
We needed his voice, we needed him to show us the world isn’t lily-white and there is huge value in the rainbow of humanity that we are. We needed him to comment and to be snarky and look like we all do when we have eaten way to well, drank way too much and need to rest so we can do it AGAIN the next night. We needed the balance he brought to the table. The lessons of different is not only OK, it’s better.
His pain transcended his need to educate, entertain, delight and inform. His pain transcended his being a father to a little girl, a defender of the woman he loved who was violated by a predator. His pain transcended his wealth, his gifts and his seemingly perfect job and life. He gave us all that he had and, unfortunately, did not retain enough for himself. He needed “out”. The darkness in people can be contagious. It’s in the eyes, sometimes while there is beauty there is no light behind it.
As men, we are conditioned to hold in our pain. Society tells us it is unmanly to cry, to have fear, to be weak or vulnerable or to say, “please, someone help me.” Life is hard (a friend of mine says this almost daily, it’s like her mantra. No life isn’t hard it can be complex, it can be painful at times. Life isn’t hard, its a gift, it’s only hard if you process information in that way. If you have trouble coping and understanding what you can do something about and what you can’t do anything about. The life journey is moments of teaching, and each circumstance—good or bad—molds us. Some of us for the better, some of us for the worse because there is a chemical imbalance inside some that embrace that which is dark. Even a sunny day is dark, moody and cloudy for people battling depression and suicidal thoughts.
Depression and suicide ideation are real and insidious. Suicide robs us of our best, brightest and most promising. It leaves lovers alone and children abandoned for life (ask an adult who lost a parent through suicide, you never recover.) The reality of coping in a world where there is darkness and light in human spirit and achievement cannot be ignored by the more gentler souls among us. Those of us who successfully mask the pain in the daytime succumb to it when we are alone.
If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. — Anthony Bourdain
The Chef knew what wisdom to impart. How to connect with people and ideas. Despite the many gifts, accolades, and a bright future, the darkness was overwhelming.
Be kind to everyone, even your enemies. Love your family, take the biscuit of life and grab as much gravy as you can and sop it up. Most of all share. Go eat at Les Halles in New York and taste the legacy. (I ate there often with family and friends.) Share your experiences and talk about them and do so without fear, with compassion and empathy. If someone in your life sees more darkness than light, love them unconditionally and be there for them without judgment.
Bon appétit, Chef Bourdain. Le repas de la vie était délicieux, nous ne pourrons peut-être plus jamais manger aussi bien. (Translation: Bon appetit, Chef Bourdain. The meal of life was delicious, we may never eat this well again)
How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.
Photo credit: Getty Images