I have been having such a difficult time with the passing of Anthony Bourdain. Not just his passing, but the WAY he passed. Because Anthony Bourdain was one of us. At least that’s the way it felt. He was a traveler, an adventurer, a commentator on people and places, cultures and food, and the intersection and misunderstanding of it all. He brought people together. He listened and enjoyed, took chances, was a bad boy, and laughed out loud. He was humble and at times vulnerable. He was a feminist. And he wore the lines on his face of so many years of suffering, experiences that made him deeper and more sincere. By his own admission he was living The Life. Like so many of us, he had stepped out of his comfort zone and used travel as life lessons for everyone. He had made a resounding financial success out of this love of adventure, but he never lost sight of his roots, of his humble beginnings, and he said that some days he felt guilty for that success. But by all accounts, including his own, he had everything he had ever dreamed, including a beautiful daughter who made him want to keep living (again, his own words). So why would he eventually – at the height of this adventure – take his own life?
I will never fully understand the depths of real depression, but I have worked hard to have some insight. The closest I’ve come is remembering my darkest days in graduate school in northern England, when I truly felt more depressed than I ever had. I was surrounded by a sad city, cast in darkness by 4pm in the wintertime. People were aggressive and mean, unfriendly and quick to start a fight — in the streets, at any time, day or night. My stress was overwhelming, I felt isolated and hopeless; getting out of bed each day was made possible only by my son and my incredible stubbornness that I. would. Finish. Graduate. School. If. It. Killed. Me. And it almost did. But even in those most difficult moments, I knew the darkness would pass. My time there was limited, and so too would be the sadness, the difficulties, the deep depression that came with it. So when I’ve tried to really understand the kind of depression that would cause someone to consider taking his or her life, I remember my own depth of sadness. Then I reframe it as if I really, deeply knew that it would never ever go away. What if this was it for the rest of my life? When I think about it in this frame, I think maybe I have an inkling of what real depression might be. But even then it’s only hypothetical.
Still, when one of us goes, it makes me take a step back. Travel is tiring, difficult, not for the faint of heart or the closed of mind. It makes us question our choices, sometimes every day. And then recommit. Because the ones who dare to take this life on are the strongest among us, aren’t they? Aren’t we?
I wonder at the support network that we travelers have for ourselves. We have friends and acquaintances in new and old places, or maybe family just a phone call away. But do we support each other enough in the ways that matter? Do we reach out if we see trouble with each other—or with each other’s children? What would that even look like? I don’t have answers, only endless questions.
I have followed and participated in so many conversation threads online with sincere people asking deep-hearted seeking questions about the how and why of this lifestyle. The conversations are hopeful and useful. And I hope they are enough. For anyone who may not follow Worldschoolers or other travel list serv or Facebook groups, I would recommend getting online. These resources may not be ideal if you are questioning or suffering, but they are resources, and at least a valuable start. In my experience the best understanding comes from those who have been there.
When I think about the conversations I’ve read through or participated in, either online or in person, it seems we are all at the root of it seeking connection and deep experience. It is the Why of travel, and what Bourdain spoke about on so many occasions. As humans we are constantly seeking connection with others, and with ourselves. Recently, some of us began discussing the creation of an intentional community – like the one I have in Santa Fe – and I know we are among so many who are having this very conversation in various parts of the world at this one moment. Because the need is so deep. With the immensity of our dysfunction and disgrace on a national level, I feel hopeful seeing so many individuals reaching out with efforts to connect. We would do well in this time of need to also remember and to put into action the practices of ongoing radical kindness, awareness of all things beautiful and different, and generosity and gentleness of spirit, towards ourselves and each other.
I am so deeply saddened by the loss of one of our family. A friend. I hope we can use this moment to reflect on how we look after each other, and after ourselves.