I used to envision myself as the poor-and-unhealthy-man’s version of Anthony Bourdain. He was a grey-haired and large, well-muscled and weathered handsome guy, compared to me—salt-and-sand hair, a smallish and softly corpulent physique, smooth-skinned, and fundamentally homely. But we shared many of the same interests, tastes, and philosophical approaches to life. In reality, equating myself with Anthony Bourdain in any form or fashion is utterly arrogant and deeply wishful thinking that speaks forcefully against reality. I only wish. But last night, I heard a recording of his conversation with a guy in Indonesia, a Brit by the sound of the guy’s voice, during which the conversation turned to what the two of them would want done with their bodies upon their deaths. The Brit suggested a party of sorts, with his body burned and returned to the universe from whence it came. Bourdain wasn’t interested in a party. He opted to be “found dead” in the woods, where his body would be consumed by forest creatures and recycled. He also suggested being put into a wood chipper and sprayed against something or other. I missed part of that, and I may be glad I did. At least that’s what I remember from both comments. I can relate to both of them.
Despite the obligatory detour from my originally-intended comments here, I am back to my desire to be someone “like” Anthony Bourdain. I want to witness the world with an open mind. I want to condemn the injustices I see and report them to the world, encouraging the world to join me in condemning them. And I want to do this while enjoying other cultures and their cuisines, not through haute cuisine but, instead, in kitchens of regular people for whom kitchens do not represent livelihood but familial or communal interaction.
My wishes and desires and dreams do not lend themselves easily to narrative. They find better expressions in poetry and vignette, emphasized through the occasional tirade and irrational rant. Yesterday, following church service, a smallish group of us engaged in conversation after watching a TED Talk delivered by Jonathon Haidt, who discussed the moral roots of liberals and conservatives. The talk was eye-opening and instructive. It revealed aspects of myself that I wish I could hide. It also allowed me, oddly, to look into Anthony Bourdain’s mind. I have tried for an hour to express just how that came to be, but I can’t. I will just say the video had impact. And I think I came to understand why Anthony Bourdain committed suicide and why I could follow suit one day. I’m not suggesting it’s on the immediate horizon (in fact I adamantly assert otherwise), but I think I can see how I might reach the conclusion that suicide is the best choice for me and for those I would leave behind. His exposure to the world revealed glorious aspects of this planet and the life forms that live on it. But his experiences also revealed ugliness that ought not to occupy humankind in any form on this planet. When one reaches the point of believing the ugliness outweighs the beauty, I think it’s time to go. I can imagine that would be my choice. And if the people I left behind were left with the option of dealing with a crotchety old geezer who sees nothing but the worst in all of us or the memory of a curmudgeon who loved the strange challenges of life on earth, I think they’d prefer the early departure of the latter by his own hand than the lingering insistence on living through the misery of a prolonged departure.
I don’t know what demons prompted Anthony Bourdain to hang himself. His death hurt me for a lot of reasons, but I wish his memory well and I wish those who mourn him better times ahead.
Anthony Bourdain and I shared a passion for food and, I think, for culture. He was far better at exploring both, but he was in a sense a role model for those of us who wish we could have lived his life. Lately, as I watch my culture slide into an abyss of our own making, I long for a culture like his in which his complaints can be heard and embraced by millions. But our culture today is more apt to eschew any contributions Bourdain might have made, calling him a commie or a socialist or a pussy. That’s one of the things that makes suicide attractive. But I can’t imagine reaching that point, not really. Not as long as there’s food to explore, a woman who loves me, and an opportunity to complain bitterly about so much for which there is to complain. Damn you, Anthony Bourdain! It might have been my turn to die!