Image Credit: Miller Mobley, The Hollywood Reporter
I have never been one to mourn celebrity deaths. I feel sadness for the families and friends that will now be grieving their loved ones, just as I do for anyone who passes away. But it has always felt strange to mourn for someone I have never met just because they happen to be famous or on TV or someone of note.
But then Anthony Bourdain died and things felt a little different. Anthony was a tattooed, charismatic, outspoken man, who embodied what real travel is to me. He taught me from the comfort of my home how to give myself to travel, to interact with people that are different than me, to try different foods, and to realize how little I understand about life. Anthony had a way with people, an ability to ask honest questions and get honest answers where others rely on platitudes and niceties. You could tell he was moved by travel, moved by the food he ate, and moved the people he met.
Anthony taught us that true travel is more than taking selfies, buying useless souvenirs, or lounging all day at an all-inclusive resort. He showed us a hidden world where travel was a door into the mysteries of life and humanity. He showed us how to dive deep into the world, to understand it at its core, and to devour amazing food all over the world. He taught us that the more we learn the more we understand our own ignorance. That life is not about the pursuit of some “smug clarity,” but the acceptance of our insignificance and a commitment to constant learning.
Unlike all the Instagram and Facebook posts about travel or other travel TV shows, he showed us what travel is really about in all its complexity and paradox. He did not hide the shitty times, the heartbreaking times, the exhaustion and self-loathing and shame that comes from realizing how little the rest of the world has and how fortunate we each are. Travel is full of challenge, but is singularly amazing and immensely valuable to the world.
I am sad for his pain. For his despair. For his belief that death was easier than living life. I am sad that we lost a good person. A flawed, broken, selfish, destructive person at times. But a good person. I hope that his death is not in vain and meaningless for those of us who saw a larger than life character once a week on our TV screens. Yes, his show was entertainment, but it was also something more. It was a map that we can choose to embody in our own way. It was a guide for how to place ourselves at the feet of our human neighbors and seek to find connection where maybe nothing obvious exists.
I hope that in his death we can see the valuable choices we can all make in travel and in life. The choice to eat different foods, to sit down and have a conversation with someone you would not usually talk with, to take less selfies and care less about how other people see us. That we make the choice to stay with a local family and to hear their story. To choose to see the human in everyone no matter where they come from or how they live. To most of all see the world with clear eyes, to speak honestly, and to speak truth to ourselves, to others, and speak truth to power.
I will leave you with this one quote that I think embodies everything Anthony Bourdain gave to us and tried to teach us. It stays with me and reminds me that we all have our own life to live but we are all living next to each other. Remember that as you pass by each other, heads down and faces in phones. Remember to look up, to see the ripples you leave behind, and to silently glide into the ripples of others to hear their truth.
Travel changes you. 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.
Image Credit: Erik Tanner, gettyimages