Anthony Bourdain is dead! An inspirational comment
I was deeply moved when I learned that Anthony Bourdain had left this earth by his own hand on June 8, 2018. I didn’t want to think about it, but I couldn’t push it away, it kept coming back. I asked several close friends, “What do you think about Anthony Bourdain’s death?” They responded with, “What a terrible, selfish thing to do.” “What an ass, he left a twelve-year-old daughter and a significant-other behind to deal with that mess.” “Why? He had everything?” “He’s a coward. I hope he goes straight to hell, good riddance!”. I didn’t want to hear any of that crap. So, when another friend quietly said, “Don’t judge him, until you have walked in his shoes.” That comment intrigued me and I thought, perhaps my friend was right, I need to think this through.
A few days later I was at my dermatologist’s office for a four-hour appointment to remove a small skin cancer. The two surgeries took about a half-hour. I spent the rest of my visit in the waiting room with a dozen other elderly Haole (Hawaiian for foreigner) patients sitting around trying to politely ignore the white gauze patches on each other’s faces. When my thoughts inevitably turned to Mr. Bourdain, I bit the bullet and reluctantly decided to examine my reaction to his death.
Although we had never met, I knew a lot about him from reading his books and watching many of his TV episodes. The two things that shaped my admiration for Anthony Bourdain was his book, “Kitchen Confidential,” a sometimes, hilarious expose of the New York restaurant business. The second was a stunning episode of his “No Reservations” show, filmed in Beirut, Lebanon in 2006 during the Israel-Lebanon war. It was an incredible feat of journalism. As the camera captured the hysteria of bombs falling on Beirut, the show morphed into a tense, real-time war documentary. A fearless, steel-nerved side of Anthony Bourdain emerged, took charge and captured you, as you witnessed his escape to a U.S. Warship. The show won an Emmy.
I admired him, not only for being a world-class, traveler and storyteller, but for his shameless acceptance and portrayal of himself as a working alcoholic and druggie. There were no excuses or explanations forthcoming for his behavior. He lived his life as a fearless free spirit who did what he wanted to do and did so with unmitigated gusto. He wasn’t any boy scout, but then, he wasn’t a devil either. He was Anthony Bourdain living large. He was a cocky, funny, insightful, sometimes foul-mouthed, sometimes outspoken, man of the world and its kitchens. He spoke and wrote what he thought, there were no filters with Anthony. Sure, his comments about the outrageous people and situations he encountered in his life were sometimes unflattering, but he thought that was funny stuff and delivered it as such. Some of the recipients of his barbs characterized him as a mean, angry cynic. I didn’t buy that, Anthony always told it like it was, he let the chips fall where they may, and allowed the truth to entertain.
I recognized glimpses of myself in the way he saw the world, lived his life, spoke, and wrote. I somehow knew that I too had a jillion, entertaining stories to tell and if Anthony Bourdain could shoot from the hip and be successful, so could I. I didn’t need to go to finishing school and re-invent myself as a polished, articulate novelist, I just needed to get my stories out there and I too would do well. Stories filled with humor, enthusiasm, odd characters, and insight. That was the gift that he left me.
Enough of my grousing about dear, dead Anthony, He’s now deader than yesterday’s fried chicken, and will soon be forgotten by all but the few of us whose lives he touched. This story isn’t about Anthony Bourdain, it’s about me and my perspective about suicide. Up until today, I didn’t even want to think about why these folks did what they did. Anthony’s death changed that because I cared about him, and what would become of him in the after-life?
My first encounter with a suicide occurred when I was about twelve. I overheard my parents whispering about my auntie who overdosed and left the world at a young age. My father indicated she was a cowardly, shameful, embarrassment to the family. In 1984, A good friend, and talented physician, Dr. Fredricks, blew his brains out on the beach a block from my office after his morning hospital rounds. In 1994, my friend Jack Temple, who lived next door to Kurt Cobain on the shores of Lake Washington, called and said that young Kurt Cobain committed suicide in his home next door.
I was surprised to hear that funny man, Robin Williams, took his own life in 2014. I remembered occasionally seeing him enjoying his morning coffee and reading the newspaper outside of Kailua’s Kalapawai Market. Robin’s Hawaii home was in the exclusive Lanakai neighborhood, just down the street.
As I thought about these folks, it occurred to me they shared a few similar traits. They were all charismatic, brilliant, hard-working, energetic type “A” personalities. One of the common characteristics they shared was a high level of creativity. They could create something beautiful out of the mundane. Artistic ability was always one of the multiple talents common to each of them. Some were superstars or high-profile celebrities, others shunned notoriety. They used their God-given talents to amass fortunes which separated them from us ordinary folks and allows them complete freedom to do as they please with little or no boundaries. You would think it couldn’t be that tough to be a star. A life of hobnobbing with other celebrities, having tons of money and all kinds of folks clamoring to be your friend. Apparently, there is a dark side which often is an integral part of that lifestyle. Their world is not our world, and maybe that is the double edge sword that causes them to flail out for something which they can neither understand nor achieve.
Drugs and alcohol often fuel successful people’s dark sides. It starts with a harmless gulp of Jack Daniels behind the school, followed by their first puff of Pakalolo, (Marijuana). By the time they have risen to the apex of their careers, the subtle increase in drug and alcohol consumption has inevitably altered their brain’s circuitry. and they are no longer the same person. Mommy dearest is now a bitch.
The personal demons that have grasped control of their minds continue to twist and distort reality until it becomes an elusive seductress. Paranoia, unfounded fears, and intense anxiety erode their self-esteem and their lives become a lie. They descend deeper and deeper into an irreversible depression. When they realize the demos are there to stay, they know the future may be even more terrifying than the present. Their search for escape inevitably leads them to consider suicide, seemingly the only way out. Nothing else matters; lovers, family, friends; nothing.
A friend confided in me that he had once seriously considered suicide. He told me, “I was into whiskey, weed, and heroine pretty heavy. I had just lost my job and my longtime girlfriend. She told me she loved me, but I had to choose between her and the drugs. I knew I couldn’t stop the drugging and boozing. I was devastated. I loved her, and my life without her was a waste of breath. Knowing I couldn’t stop the drugging and drinking, I descended into a deep depression. I decided to get high, and off myself. I didn’t dwell on how this would impact my girlfriend, family, and friends. I didn’t care if it wrong, it was my life, and I was going to end it. I was done, it was over, and I was out of here. I passed out before going through with it. The next morning when I woke up, I forgot how pissed off I was.”
Many of these folks who choose suicide, do so in an altered state of mind. So, what becomes of their souls? Where do their souls go? Mary, the Mother of Jesus, emphatically told the Fatima children there is a Heaven, a purgatory, and a hell, and that’s where we go when we die. When I was growing up in the fifties, the church implied that those who choose suicide went to hell. Recently, they have changed their position, and subtlety suggest perhaps that is not necessarily so.
Recently, Pope Francis made this comment regarding suicide, “Some of the victims (of pedophile priests) have been driven to suicide. These deaths weigh on my heart, on my conscience and that of the whole Church. To their families, I offer my feelings of love and pain and humbly, I ask forgiveness.” Pope Francis has repeatedly stressed that God is a merciful God and as such, I’m sure mercy, love, and forgiveness will play a role in God’s reception of the tortured souls who take their own life.
A Catholic Paper printed an article recently about suicide, I paraphrase, “God understands the dark, hopeless place these tormented people inhabit. Some, He will welcome as a mother would welcome her newborn to her breast for the first time.”
I recently learned of a holy woman whom God gave the gift of being able to communicate with souls in purgatory. In regard to suicide, she once wrote, “When people ask me, ‘Are there any souls of those who committed suicide in purgatory?’ I respond, Yes, certainly, but not all of them are there.”
We all need to be mindful that God created us, and our lives belong to Him, not to us. Therefore, it was clearly wrong for Anthony Bourdain to take his life, but it’s up to a merciful, all-knowing God to pass judgment on Anthony. We can only pray that God has a place in his house for a master storyteller.
This soliloquy brought a long overdue closure for me on this difficult subject, and I hope it will for those of you who have read it. In the words of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”
May God have mercy on your soul, Anthony Bourdain!
*** THE END ***
photo credits: Catholic Exchange, Jeannie Ewing
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