I have been in the kind of a funk for the past week the
likes of which I haven’t seen since the years of my teenage angst. This
depression felt like mud sucking at the soles of my shoes, dragging me deeper
and deeper, strangling me with its thick and suffocating weight. I couldn’t
figure it out. Things are actually going all right – I have a great family, a
beautiful baby boy, and a job that I genuinely look forward to going to in the
But I just couldn’t
shake it. This ennui, this deep well of sadness that just would not go away
no matter what I threw at it – chocolate, exercise, even prescription
medication. I just felt so goddamned sad and like there was this existential
crisis looming – one which I would have to face down like some sort of
cartoonish Yakuza boss in a cheesy action flick. Then I looked at the date. It
is now about four days until the one-year anniversary of Anthony Bourdain’s
When he died, my
world tilted. The one man in my life who had never managed to disappoint me (my
son doesn’t count – he’s two), felt like life on Earth was so fucked that he
had to get away. I mean, I can’t say I blame him sometimes. I look around and I
see a world choking to death on its own fumes, human beings killing one another
(still!) over differences in melatonin content, and logic and reason thrown out
the proverbial window. It is a bad time to be an intellectual, to be a person
who feels things deeply and an even worse time to be someone who is different.
*Disclaimer – yes, I recognize he suffered from
depression, which obviously occluded his view of the world. If you, or someone
you know, is suffering from depression and is having suicidal thoughts, please,
please, please, call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s
anonymous and available to you 24/7.
And good Lord, Tony was certainly different. He was a 6’4”
skinny white dude who wore cowboy boots and waxed romantic about Cuba and
Ernest Hemingway. He consistently expressed a desire to dragoon grandmothers
into cooking for him and had the ability to tell you a story about nearly
anything and make it the most fascinating goddamn thing you ever heard. He was
everything I ever wanted to be and more.
I, too, romanticize the past, often to the point of it being
unhealthy for my mental health. I, too, get all warm and fuzzy inside when a
grandmother hands me a cookie or fixes me a meal, because I very much miss my
own grandmother and the way she made me feel like any trouble I had could be
laid at her doorstep, forgotten, while she took care of me and made me strong
again. And I, too, like to think that I have a knack for storytelling.
I’m sure you are reading this and thinking to yourself how
ridiculous I sound – a 28-year-old woman with a career who is mourning the
death of a man she never met, let alone even exchanged so much as an email. But
I have to tell you; he was – is – one of
the most important people in my life. When I hear his voice or read his words,
I am reminded of the great accomplishments of the human race – both past and
present. I am reminded that sometimes the most important thing you can do is
put pen to paper, knife to produce, and pan to stove. That at the end of the
day, human beings are more similar than we are different.
I hold on to his books and to his television shows because
they bring a kind of peace to my soul that I don’t often find elsewhere. Even
though we never had a conversation, I feel like Tony was one of the few people
out there who could understand me. Understand why even though I have had every
opportunity in life, I still feel like the world is a dark and hopeless place.
He showed me that it’s okay to make your own way and that even when we find
ourselves down the rabbit hole, we can find our way to the surface again.
I can’t stand that he’s dead. I can’t stand that he took his
own life. I can’t stand that the person who is the head of this country lives
in such ignorant bliss of his own stupidity, stupidity that is so glaring to
the rest of the world it might as well be the sheen from his own giant
forehead. I can’t stand that the person who brought such light and love and
tolerance to the world is dead and that people who are actively trying to bring
about the apocalypse are still alive. To me, that is such a fucked up
situation, I can’t believe that fish haven’t started walking on land and that
the pigs haven’t decided to finally rebel against the farmer.
Because I, like Tony, have this incredibly simplistic sense
of right and wrong. I suppose that’s why we both were such big fans of western
movies. The bad guy would come rolling into town on his big black horse, a
skinny cigarette clutched in his teeth. He’d squint out from underneath his hat
and give a devilish sort of grin while plotting his nefarious takeover of the
town square and imagining how he’d corrupt the nice Widow Jones.
He would get away with things for a while, but at some
point, our hero would thunder into the scene, guns blazing and square jaw set
for justice. He would blast the villain away with his shotgun or six-shooter and
enjoy a well-deserved beer at the saloon – on the house, of course. Simple. Bad
guy gets dead and good guy rides off into the sunset. Any other kind of outcome
is simply unthinkable!
I carry that kind of gunslinger justice into the world. If
you’re a bad guy, you’re gonna get yours. And the hero will be rewarded.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it often works in real life, if ever. Bad guys
get to shore up fortunes in offshore bank accounts and heroes work themselves
to the bone and die young while in the pursuit of justice – often in the face
of simply insurmountable odds. I mean, we see it in the headlines all the time:
Banker who stole millions gets probation. Public defender who freed wrongfully
convicted man dies of a heart attack at age 40.
But just because that is our reality doesn’t mean I have to
accept it quietly. Or accept it at all. I think that’s what made Tony so
special. He knew, in his heart and in his soul, that in the cold, cruel world
out there, the heroes often die tragic deaths without ever having defeated
their villain. Yet, he tried every single day to still make the world a better
place. He talked about it in his shows, he wrote about it, he used his
celebrity to build and create the world that he envisioned.
I also don’t accept that the world just sucks and that’s the
end of the story. I don’t think that the same creatures that are capable of
creating things like the Mona Lisa and animal-style fries are doomed to their
own destructive tendencies. I think we have the potential to be much better
than we are. And I also think that the bigger forces in the world tend to tip
towards justice. It just seems like it takes a few millennia for the scales to
tip that way. But we get there in the end.
This week, I invite you to watch an episode of one of Tony’s
shows. Read his article “Don’t Eat Before Reading This”. Maybe throw a runny
egg over your rice. He loved that shit. Get inspired by a man who never gave up
on his fellow humans, no matter how cynical and depressed he would get
sometimes. Even though Tony’s villain won the battle against our hero, we can
win the war.