You never know the burdens people bear behind their smiles. No matter how successful we become or the feats we achieve, the one thing we can’t outrun is the gravity of our shadows. I write this in light of Anthony Bourdain’s reported suicide and the shock some feel that a man so accomplished and full of life on TV can be driven to such measures. If one thing connects the whole of humanity, irrespective of class, identity or ideology, it is the universal language of pain. Live long enough and all of us will feel the weight of unrelenting sorrows.
I never met Bourdain and only know him through his show “Parts Unknown”, yet I realized the first time I saw his special that he was not another vacuous pundit. He did something very few do once they are given a national platform, instead of speaking through ideological blinders, he humanized the struggles of marginalized people throughout the world. When he recorded his show in Jamaica, instead of limiting the discussion to reggae, beaches and local delicacies, he used the occasion to shed light on the way the tourism industry is destroying local economies and indenturing Jamaicans as caretakers of visitors on their island.
Bourdain also spoke out about the way Palestinians are brutalized and humanized their plight in an act of truth telling seldom observed on mainstream media. When celebrity found him, he chose to keep his courage. Given the scope of his life and the difficulties he encountered, it makes sense why he chose defiance instead of echoing the establishment. Those who endure the most tribulations find it difficult to keep quiet when they see others being maltreated. Bourdain found purpose in cooking and happiness by feeding other people as he nourished appetites and hearts alike.
He cared about people, that is what made him successful as a chef, a writer and eventually a TV icon. He was an amazing story teller and connected with others on his show with such ease because life’s slings and arrows bestowed upon him the gift and burden of empathy. Bourdain talked about his battle with depression and the countless times he has spiraled into the abyss of mental exhaustion on the episode where he traveled to Buenos Aires. He lived to the fullest and experienced the full measure of life’s highs and lows.
“I should’ve died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s. I feel like I’ve stolen a car—a really nice car—and I keep looking in the rearview mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet.” ~ Anthony Bourdain
The hardest part of depression is overcoming it only to be enveloped by it yet again. I write this from personal experience, on more than one occasion I’ve felt the weight of what seemed to be unending melancholy. With each return visit, depression warps our prisms and magnifies moles into mountains. This is why some choose permanent solutions for temporary problems. During the seasons of distress, every minute and each dilemma can seem eternal. In these moments, creative minds invert and become destructive. Click To Tweet
I write this article as a farewell to Bourdain and a reminder for all who have or continue to struggle with depression. When I was in Colorado and facing my darkest moment, a chaplain once encouraged me to give my mind a break and focus on something beautiful. It seemed nonsensical when he first said that, I felt like he was telling me to find ice in the Sahara desert. But I realize the profound wisdom of his counsel—we become what we speak and see.
Our minds are malleable in this way, Betty Beke, the co-founder of the Ghion Journal, noted that media filters our realities and informs our thinking. In the age of omnipresent news and continuous information, it can be easy to have our understanding of the world be transmuted by a steady stream of bad events. We must resist the temptation to look at this world through the lens of pessimism and find beauty even in our mess. Don’t let the pressure to please others overwhelm you, be kind to yourself.
Chefs can only succeed if they nourish themselves as they feed others. As we mourn Anthony Bourdain’s passing, I hope that we can also celebrate his many achievements. Beyond that, let this time be a marker that depression is not a stigma but a human trait. We wear masks for others and feel like our hearts are unknown. Yet in sorrow no one is alone; all of us have our shadows, the best way to overcome is not by yourself. #HeartsUnknown
“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks—on your body or on your heart—are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” ~ Anthony Bourdain
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
Latest posts by Lij Teodrose Fikremariam (see all)
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