I am ashamed to say that I saw Anthony Bourdain as my inspiration. Like the many people who watched him year after year. I saw what I could learn from him, absorbed his adventures and felt like I shared meals with the people he met from far reaches of the globe. I wanted to do everything he had done and travel the exact same routes. I’m ashamed to say I was inspired by him, because that meant I couldn’t see the man beyond what he could do for my life.
Don’t get me wrong, I and all of his fans are in the exact same position, I don’t think so highly of myself to believe I could have changed anything, but Anthony Bourdain’s death is a reminder to not simply look deeper with our neighbors, no matter where they be from, but with our heroes as well.
Every so often, being in a different body in public can be draining and frightening. There are days when anxiety runs wild in my mind and for days I find it difficult to leave my house or interact with anyone—most upsettingly, I often forgot to hope or to dream. But when I began to get ready, when I would walk by the doors to my house more frequently, when I pondered being outside more often, I would turn on Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, or No Reservations or the short-lived (and my favorite) The Layover. I could travel the world and, when I was ready, come back to it, one episode at a time. I loved his way with words, of blending high-brow literary with profanity and slang. What he did with words, he was equally talented in doing with people. He could swagger into a Michelin Starred restaurant with swagger like he owned it, but would humbly walk into a grandmother’s kitchen and sweetly shake her hand or offer her a hug. He was an expert at eschewing our western notions of what valued cuisine, and, more importantly, people, could be. His desire to openly oppose many of the US’s foreign policy stances, especially those in the Middle East made him admirable all while humanizing the issues many read on their phone in the bathroom with ambivalence. Surprisingly counter to his history and persona as someone with a hard-partying life and addiction, he wasn’t a cynic. In fact, he detested hipsters for their ability to turn every intergenerational tradition and facet of global culture into an insufferable trend that left people jaded.
I know all of these things about him from his show and writings, but I’m ashamed to say he was an inspiration, because I never was able to see him as a just a man.
I often chide abled people for their inability to see disabled people beyond their capacity to inspire everyone else, but when it comes to someone I was an active fan of, I did the same thing. The problem with seeing someone as merely an inspiration is that they exist in your life as solely an idea. People aren’t ideas; they don’t exist only in the moment you see them, or between the pages of books or on television screens. Everyone leads lives that others can’t or don’t want to see. And, the more someone who is highly visible realizes they have such an effect on people, they further hide those pieces of themselves they don’t think others would want to be a part of.
I will greatly miss Anthony Bourdain, his snark, and his gift for making us see others in ways that made them feel close. He left behind lessons we could all stand to remember: put away your cynicism, have a hard conversation, allow people the opportunity to tell their own story, and, come together over a good meal.
*If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, suicidal ideation or suicidal intent, please visit this list of international helplines.