Through Parts Unknown
Anthony Bourdain died today. Before that though, he stole my heart and showed me the world through a gritty lens of intelligence, humility and unapologetic hedonism. Usually in the middle of a sleepless night when my need for escapism was strong. We became friends in New York after he extolled the virtues of places I had been and loved. We would hang out – me on my couch eating frozen waffles and he, leading me around the world to places I hadn’t yet been, hanging with friends I hadn’t yet made, savoring anything but processed and frozen. There was a time, sometime ago, of long, dark, sleepless nights, when we would hang out frequently. Behind my walls, I was isolated, deliberately. Self-protected in the darkness from the glare of the world, the weight of responsibility, the tedium of routine, the rub of loneliness and the perils of relationship. Bright, vivacious and dynamic by day, dark and deep and alone by night. And yet I wasn’t really. He came with his punk rock ethos and intelligence and heart. He came with reprieve.
He reminded me of the reasons I love travel. In particular, the reasons I love to travel alone. The connections we make when we have the audacity to show up alone. No companion, no buffer. Only our humanity and our hunger. The hot dog vendor on the Brooklyn side of the bridge who helped me with a borrowed bike and a trick kickstand. The Buddhist nun who shone light from the center of her being and stood beside me for a picture. The old man, crooked and wizened with a face splitting grin as he danced me across a park courtyard framed in temples from centuries gone. The cab driver who drove me like precious cargo and the one who offered me an apple in apology for the fact that he didn’t. The woman who told me off and put me in my place when I had no idea where it was. The French fries shared in an airport food court with a stranger whose name I can’t remember but whose eyes I always will. The countless hours drinking milky coffee and smoking cigarettes in cafes I couldn’t find again if I tried. The meals I ate alone, slow and leisurely, as though being far from home was the permission I needed to relax into myself. To lose all trace of self-consciousness and surrender completely to the moment. Something in the impermanence, the awareness that I would not ever visit this place again inviting me to drink it in. All of the places I met God, sat with spirit or ran my fingers through the thick and abiding threads between us. Across borders, oceans and languages. Beyond cultures, past ideas, all in together.
He reminded me that the world is raw and full of flavor and beauty. That people are kind, that nourishment is dynamic, and that intelligence is sexy. That there are things in life worth loving deeply and that while some experiences might fuck you up a while, might leave you scarred, they will also grow your heart, increase your capacity and deepen your connection. If you are willing. He was easy company when I wasn’t even fond of my own. After a while, after a rest, he encouraged me to get out, to explore again, to taste again. To trust my footing and to hold my own.
Despite all the experiences I have shared with him, he won’t ever know how profound they were. He won’t know about all the nights I fell asleep while he told me stories or how very deeply I appreciated it. Regardless, he knew, I think, something about life. How to suck the marrow out of it and live it fully. I won’t speculate for a minute what lead to his death or the deliberateness of it. I will only say a prayer that sends him on with love and deep gratitude and that wraps his family in comfort and tenderness. I can follow the example he shared, delighting in what I love, savoring it fully and traveling boldly through the rawness of life with integrity and enthusiasm. Honoring the hunger of humanity, offering nourishment where I can and receiving it with gratitude and with relish.
All the way home.