Last week was a sorrowful week. We lost two giants of American culture with the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.
We learned that suicide has been on the rise for the entire country and our best medical experts aren’t sure why. The new normal of political news continued to swirl around us: the North Korea summit, Facebook’s intrusive data sharing practices, bizarre afflictions affecting state department officials in Cuba and China, immigrant families continuing to be torn apart with detentions and arrests rising.
But it was the news of Bourdain’s death on Friday, that he took his own life, in the midst of this everyday turmoil, that was the final blow of grief. Bourdain’s life, his respect and deep appreciation for other cultures, his strong solidarity with the #MeToo movement, his joy for food and its ability to bring us together, was a beacon of hope in these often dark and troubling times. He was a giant of American culture worthy and deserving of the admiration and praise he received. A bright light of dignity, respect and realness in the confusing and cynical time we find ourselves in.
Bourdain was not perfect, he never pretended to be, but he had true respect for others and sought to get to know people through the food they cooked. With each meal shared, be they street vendors or five star chefs, Bourdain wanted to know each of them, to walk in their shoes and understand their world, their history, their culture.
I am incredibly sad that he is no longer with us. And I am incredibly sad that this honest man, whom I observed and admired from afar, was struggling with pain. Deep, real pain that was a burden he felt he could no longer carry. This knowledge, coupled with the knowledge that millions of Americans are experiencing this same pain and increasingly choosing to take their own life to escape it, has me aching for us all.
Because you can never truly know what is at the center of a person’s heart. We can never truly know their joy, their pain, their love, but we can try.
We can try, like Anthony Bourdain showed us, to connect with our fellow humans and seek to understand. And we can reject the divisive turn our political discourse has taken.
Because I am afraid that the othering, the meanness, the complete lack of empathy that spews out from our president’s twitter feed every day is having lasting effects on our social ties. It feeds an inward, isolating tribalism that is the opposite of everything this country is supposed to be.
A national mood that makes it easier to ignore or disrespect the people we encounter in our everyday lives: the barista who makes your coffee, the woman next to you on the bus, the driver in the car ahead of you, the cashier at the grocery store—all people with unique stories and experiences—all worthy of kindness and compassion.
Collectively, we must all remember to find our humanity and see it in those around us. We are all worthy of kindness and respect. We must resist the urge to turn inward.
It is in that spirit that I will remember Anthony Bourdain and honor the example of his life. Experience the world. Touch the lives around you and share a good meal with friends. Or share a good meal with strangers. Practice empathy for others and yourself. Because the quest for connection and understanding makes us all a little better, a little kinder. And in these times, that’s something we all could use more of in our lives.