I don't know what it was like to be Anthony Bourdain, but I was deeply attracted to him on a human level. I resonated with his willingness to reveal his intimate relationship with his own darkness - the desire to self-annihilate. In that shameless, sometimes reckless, but oh-so-articulate self-awareness, I felt his real NEED to be connected to other humans in basic, embodied, imperfect, pleasure-based ways. I liked his creative way of demonstrating to us that it is pleasurable to feel fed, to feel seen and heard, to shoot the shit and discover an unexpected kinship amidst greasy fingers and unruly tastes.
One of his most recent books, Appetites, expresses the arrival in his heart of some deeper sense of purpose and commitment to being present and responsible for the joy and well-being of another human, his daughter. And yet, he ended his life. And so many people have chosen to discuss mental "illness" and the "disease" of depression, to post the suicide prevention hotline number, to encourage all of us to be on the lookout for the stoic friend suffering in silence. I don't think these actions are wrong - at their core they are a call to be more sensitive and to make sure those who need help get help. But who are you to tell someone they need help? I say this with real knots and loops in my stomach, I say this with tears streaming down my face. Who are you to say that this suicide is a tragedy and not a choice?
I'm working through some stuff here, and I imagine many people upon hearing the news this morning are, too. I have contemplated suicide at different times in my life, even felt myself inching closer and closer to setting the scene for an actual reckoning with the act. In at least two of these moments, I had the inclination to reach out to a friend. "Hey," I said, "I'm not going to do anything right now, but I've been thinking about harming myself and I want you to know." "What can I do," my friend asked. "I don't know. Invite me over for dinner sometimes? Just knowing that you know when we have a conversation helps." I didn't want to have to hide the depth of my isolation and disorientation anymore. I had always been described as "bubbly," "joyful," etc. and I felt that my sorrow and my broken heart were not only burdensome but boring to others. I couldn't take it.
Over the course of the next few months, my friend played a big role in my day-to-day. Never once did this friend say, "I'm worried about you." Never once did this friend say, "Are you sure you don't need to see someone?" She was available to talk, to get coffee, she responded with humor and absolute presence when I would bombard her with irreverent / nihilistic text messages. That made me feel seen, as a real person with higher than normal (for me, not on a 'national scale') levels of sad and depressed feelings. If you have never had suicidal thoughts, and maybe even if you have, this is surely not a standard expression of what 'works,' just my personal experience. But I do think we have a terrible track record as a society of including desperation and pain as viable, to-be-expected points on the human experience spectrum. I do think that our opioid and now suicide epidemic has more to do with the fact that we are so afraid to talk about, let alone feel pain and those who aren't afraid become isolated by the pain. I do believe with my entire self that we are all expressions of what's possible in human form, and that's not 'for better,' or 'for worse,' it just is. It is possible to take another human life and not feel anything. It is possible to believe your only option is suicide. It is possible to step back from the ledge. It is possible to establish an alliance with a total stranger. It is possible to change the world.
In my studies over the years - of yoga, Ayurveda, and other, primarily Eastern philosophies - the liberation of the individual soul into the Absolute, or Nirvana, does not happen at the moment of achieving 'perfection,' but at the moment of limitless, unbounded understanding. I want to believe that Mr. Bourdain's soul needed to know this experience. I want to believe none of our suffering will be in vain. I want all beings everywhere to be happy and free, but I honestly have no idea what that actually looks like. In the wake of this heart-wrenching loss today, I just want to say that it is not abnormal to be in tremendous pain, or to be lost, or to contemplate your own death. It is not morbid or worrisome. It is human, and you are human, and the most humane thing we can do for one another is to acknowledge the grief that is part of being human. We acknowledge the grief by being quiet and still sometimes, by stopping all the rounds of applause and big action steps and sobbing and wailing for a few days, by sitting with each other as we are right this moment - naked, trembling, barely grown babies with big feelings and deep needs.
It can't be that we invest so much of ourselves in a public figure like Anthony Bourdain only to be devastated and shocked by his apparent sadness. He was a beacon for each and every one of us, shining a light on our shared humanity, which often is sad and a bit soul-sucking. His life and work and writing are reminders to feel all of this and seek to know more. His karma (action) is our karma (work) as well. May we find stillness today and feel connected enough to reach out, safe enough to acknowledge whatever is showing up, and may we come together more often and with more reverence to shed the un-shed tears, to speak the unspoken fears, and to see ourselves in one another.
In honor of each of you, in honor of your practice...