I am profoundly saddened by the suicide of chef, writer, traveler, and media personality Anthony Bourdain. After learning of his death, I sat down to write a reflection on the horrors and dangers of depression, only to sadly remember that I had already written that reflection about Robin Williams. These words have been said before, but they can not be said enough: if you are having thoughts of suicide, please know that you are not alone. Call the Chapel’s Pastoral Care hotline at 601.790.1478. If you are in danger of acting on suicidal thoughts, call 911.
A priest being a fan of someone like Bourdain might seem odd. His vocabulary, especially in his books, is … colorful, and certainly not “family friendly.” And his brash, punk rock demeanor might be off-putting for some. However, I must confess that I find him fascinating. From his revelations about the true nature of the restaurant business to his world travels, during which he would say and eat almost anything, he was as unfiltered as he was compelling. As an aspiring home cook, he inspires me to try new ingredients and techniques, and as a traveler, he encourages me to take the road less traveled.
So, upon learning of his death, I began to think about why I like him so much. His skill in the kitchen? No, although I am jealous. His opportunities to travel the world? No, although I am doubly jealous. His repartee or politics? No. Instead, I find his humility the most compelling.
In an excellent piece in the Atlantic, Kanishk Tharoor wrote, “Bourdain’s brashness came with an immense humility that really made up the warp and weft of his TV shows. There’s a long tradition of Western travelers passing sweeping, self-aggrandizing judgments on the rest of the world, and he wanted no part of it.” “The world taught Bourdain humility and respect in the face of human endeavor,” Tharoor continues, “As viewers of his shows, we learned that whatever our circumstances, it’s possible to be more committed to ourselves and to others. There is dignity and joy to be found in all places, no matter how desperate the odds.”
Here was a great writer, a master at his craft, and a man of wealth and access, and he never judged the folks he met, especially those in difficult or complicated circumstances. Food is sacramental and when one cooks for another, it is a gastronomic expression of love. Bourdain instinctively knew this, and so he celebrated those who cook and the food (and love) they offered.
Humility is difficult. Being right is easy, being right is energizing, being right is fun. And sometimes being right and standing up for what is right is important – we learned that lesson once again from the #metoo movement. But a lot of the time, we should be humble. Being humble is turning the other cheek, being humble is forgiving, being humble is Jesus hanging on the cross in stark contrast to the jealously of the authorities. The world would be a better place if we swallowed our pride and instead choose love. We may be wrong or right, but when we lay down our weapons, our relationships have a chance. And relationship, and community and love, is so desperately needed in this broken, angry world.
Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12). May we go out into the world and engage with our sisters and brothers with humility. If we do that, we will find the love and community we’ve always been looking for.