One bad night filled with unimaginably wretched feelings may amount to nothing in the morning, but one time it just might be enough to want to close your eyes for good...
I’ve read several thoughtful pieces on the passing of Anthony Bourdain A sensitive, talented and self-doubting man complicated by addiction and depression, which he fought most of his life. As someone (and I don’t know how many other tens of millions) who deals with depression, I’d like to humbly add what life lessons Bourdain taught me.
On Parts Unknown, he sold his political views with sleight of hand. You thought you were watching an exotic food show, or a travelog filled with interesting people, but after being inundated with a season or two, you realized that Bourdain's view of food and cooking was more than about local color. His subtext was about what a culture can afford to eat, what it likes to eat, what it is conditioned to eat, and when, due to affluence, it craves something new and different. These are complex forms of self-expression and cultural identity, and defined mostly by economics or politics.
If Bourdain had trained his critical eye on our country, he’d be asking why so many of us are gluttons for fast food, and even the idea of four, always inexpensive, high calorie meals a day? Or why do we go to Whole Foods and spend $150 when $100 would have bought a comparable basket at a more modest supermarket? Why do we pay $100 for a Chard loved by Beyonce? Why do we go on diets? Why do we go to gyms or yoga hoping for obedience from our bodies? Food drives us crazy. Perhaps there’s a hidden, even unconscious agenda behind what we put ourselves through. The pyramid of survival and happiness starts with food, education, and shelter, but then the simple plan gets blown out by status seeking, greed, fear, ambition, novelty and the political views to justify what we’ve become.
Until his mid-forties, Bourdain knew from life as an addict, suffering from depression, that each day was as precious as it was precarious. Then, almost overnight, he caught a break by writing Kitchen Confidentialand going to culinary school. Ultimately, he became a star in the celebrity firmament. Terra Incognito for our hero. He happily forgot the lessons of being broke and on the street, I believe, because he thought he had escaped them. Instead of heroin, he became addicted to his success, and understandably so. Millions of us loved watching him and hearing what he had to say. I think he likely attributed his self doubt, which always returned unexpectedly, to a former life of steep vulnerability, thinking that it no longer mattered. Of course it mattered, and down deep he had to know that, but he couldn’t let go of a lifestyle that was the envy of so many people. He looked at low self-esteem as the enemy, instead of what it is—the canary in the coal-mine, warning of serious danger ahead.
One bad night filled with unimaginably wretched feelings may amount to nothing in the morning, but one time it just might be enough to want to close your eyes for good. That’s my real takeaway from an extraordinary, troubled American life. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, because few others will care as much as you should. Your worst moments should be your wake up call. That is not boastful piety. I think Bourdain, had he survived the hours before his death, might have had some moments of clarity where he got real with himself.
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.