One year ago today, I woke up and sauntered into the kitchen for breakfast. Within a minute or two my husband entered, just before heading off to work. He asked me, Have you heard the news? As he was asking this question, he pulled me into a hug. No, I said. There was no way I could have known how I’d react to what he told me next. Ask yourself right now, besides your loved ones and friends, who’s death would impact you the greatest? It’s probably someone you can’t even think of off-hand. Someone who’s presence in your life and possibly the world is, by and large so commonplace you can’t fathom them being gone.
That’s why when my husband said, Anthony Bourdain has committed suicide. – my reaction was to first push my husband away from me at arms length, shout a horrified NOOO!, and then immediately hug him and begin to cry. My first thoughts were of Bourdain’s young daughter.
I am still not “over it”. I am still not “okay” with him being gone. I still haven’t let him go or taken the loss. My husband and I watched the final Parts Unknown episodes that aired after his passing (like we did every Sunday). It’s painful to hear his voice and to see his joyous smile. I could pick his voice out over a crowded room, I seem to know it so well. My husband and I have been Bourdain fans since the beginning. A Cooks Tour, No Reservations, The Layover, and Parts Unknown. We’ve read many of his books, including the catalyst of it all Kitchen Confidential. We’ve seen him speak live, numerous times and even have a photo or two with him. I have his last cookbook Appetites. I’ve given my husband several of his fiction books and his graphic novel series Get Jiro.
No, I didn’t know him . . . but it sure feels like I do.
We’ve traveled with him to the far corners and remote places of the world. We’ve shared countless meals with him. We drank with him. We’ve laughed with him. We’ve been transported with him. We’ve listened to music with him. Together, we’ve eaten noodles with a President on plastic stools in Hanoi, Vietnam. We’ve seen oceans, deserts, mountains, canyons, rivers and vast planes. We’ve swam, skied, drove, flew, ridden horses, and walked countless miles together. We’ve traveled by train, car, motorcycle, airplane, scooter, boat, horse, and everything in-between.
He was one of the greatest story tellers of our time. Through his unfiltered lens, his shows strove to transport the viewer to exotic locations, complete with local cuisine. He wanted you to feel and experience as he did, and while you can’t taste, touch or smell, through the award winning cinematography, he and his team got you damn close.
His shows were mini-lessons in travel, culture, food, cuisine, cooking, diplomacy, music, art, government, geography, places off the beaten path, and the roads less traveled. He was an ambassador, a diplomat, a chef, and a poet. He was a worker of magic, a weaver of tales, and a stunning visual artist. His voice was so important and this world is in desperate need of his insight, humor, candor, and honesty. He used his platform for good. We learned to open our eyes and to not only see the world around us, but to go out into it. We learned to have an open mind regarding new foods and experiences. We learned to be gracious guests. We learned to be humble and thankful. To be curious and ask questions. We learned that despite what angle the news chooses to show us, most people around the world are friendly and welcoming, including the Middle East, and especially Iran. This very fact, even surprised him from time to time.
The lessons continue. Explore the world around you. Let go of your preconceived notions, you may be surprised and more importantly, you may learn something. Take a few steps in someone else’s shoes, in someone else’s life – perhaps you’ll judge less harshly in the future.
One thing that I learned and loved about his show as he would sit on the ground, in a hut, in a third world country, eating the absolute best the host had to offer, perhaps dried crickets. Or he’d be eating the finest uber-fresh sushi with Master sushi Chef Masayoshi Takayama (chef and owner of 3 Michelin star restaurant Masa in NYC). While the settings of both the scenarios are different, on many levels, they are very similar. The lesson being, you are receiving hospitality, you are connecting to someone through a shared meal, you are consuming food presented with love and an open heart. The setting of a shared meal is a wonderful and magical place, full with openness and endless possibility. Understanding, acceptance, kindness, love, and compassion are forged at the meeting place of a shared meal.
I think the best thing we can do is to remember all the lessons we learned courtesy of Bourdain and do our damnedest to uphold and honor them.
- Host friends, family and new friends to your home. Offer your very best with love and openness.
- When traveling, view the world with fresh eyes. Be willing to learn.
- Be gracious, always.
- Smile. Appreciate. Thank.
- Eat, drink, laugh and remember these moments as some of the best in your life.
- Don’t judge other cultures too harshly. Chances are they’ve had a rough history, possibly worse than yours.
- Ask questions.
- Try it. Even if you are afraid. Try it anyway.
- Walk in someone else’s shoes and look from someone else’s perspective.
- Don’t judge the surroundings, lack of a while linen table cloth or presence of plastic lawn chairs too harshly. One of the best meals of your life could be waiting inside. To be made by a dear, dear old woman who’s been making the same amazing stuff from before you were born. It could quite possibly be, a life changing meal.
Dearest Tony, you are so missed and loved. You left behind a great many people who are inspired by you and your message. We cook in honor of you. We entertain in honor of you. We drink and eat in honor of you. We travel in honor of you. You, your voice and your lessons will be remembered. I hope you are in a place free from pain and suffering, enjoying your next adventure. You are missed and loved more than you could ever know!
We all – Cook Free or Die!
A Note on Suicide
I am no expert. I have had a few encounters with different folks on the other end of the phone talk suicide with me. But that’s another story.
All we can do is love the people in our life. Show compassion, understanding, acceptance, and kindness. Be a good listener. Be supportive, to the best of your ability. It is my firm belief that if someone is hell bent, committed, determined on committing suicide there is nothing we can do. No outside force is going to reason or rationalize with them, when they are in that unreachable state. They do not want “help” for whatever limited or prolonged time they are in that unreachable state.
It’s important that you hear my message. I’m saying we have no control over the actions of others. We do not know their pain or suffering and to say “it’s going to be okay” is, in a way ignoring their struggle. We cannot pretend to know someone else’s pain. Some pain is simply unbearable. And to some, death is the only answer. Just love the people in your life. Love them well, unconditionally, and the best you can. That is all any of us can really do.