Anthony Bourdain Inspired Us to Travel, Now Let Him Inspire Us to Be the Light

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This morning I fired up my phone while it was still dark to catch up on what happened in the few hours since we went to sleep last night. I expected the usual barrage of cute photos of friends on Facebook, fun messages on Instagram, witty or perhaps controversial tweets from people I follow on Twitter, and a round-up of early morning headlines. I didn’t expect one of those headlines to be “Anthony Bourdain, Travel Host and Author, is Dead at 61”. I’d bet almost none of us did.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the air immediately left my lungs as I read that headline and the sentences following that informed he took his own life.

Most of us in the travel world don’t truly know Anthony, but we ‘knew’ Anthony. We may not tell stories nearly as well as he could, but we can relate to his innate passion for adventure, for connecting with people and places, for not being afraid of the unknown just because it is different, and for wanting to encourage others to take a step beyond their own comfort zones…because we know how rewarding that step can be. We know that the world is simultaneously small and vast, but that once you cut away at the surface stuff, people are more the same than different. We can hear him saying similar things in his own unique and unfiltered way narrating over an episode of Parts Unknown.

Immediately after I left my full-time social work job to see if I could make travel a full-time job in 2012, I did some work with the Travel Channel in their DC offices. It was a pretty exciting moment to go from the State of Texas office buildings in East Texas to the Travel Channel offices. I distinctly remember that as we reached the elevators to go up, it was Anthony’s larger than life image on the doors that greeted us. He was, and is, the epitome of what it meant to make a career in the travel industry.

Anthony could travel as much as he wanted, and get paid well for doing so. Over the last few decades, he trail-blazed a career out of eating, exploring, telling stories, and inspiring others to do the same. Four things that he seemed to love and that virtually no one did better than he could. But sometimes that isn’t enough. Or rather, sometimes that doesn’t feel like enough.

In fact, while myself and others in this industry encourage travel, sometimes lots of travel, travel can be used as a dangerous escape that can take you further into the darkness. Travel can often be beautiful, fulfilling, and enriching, but depending on what else is going on in your life, it can also exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation. Travel can be the conduit for drinking, using, extreme exhaustion, and losing all sense of routine and grounding. It can take you literally and figuratively away from your loved ones and your home, which may begin to not even feel like home if you are up in the air more than you are on the ground.

I’m not saying that any of that was the case for Anthony, but I say it because I have seen it happen. I say it because I don’t want it to happen to any of you.

Days can feel dark, nights can feel darker. Life can feel pointless and people can feel like they are worthless. It is hard to argue with feelings. Suicide can feel simultaneously like the best personal decision to escape the pain and also the perceived burden you are to others. But, it isn’t those things. It is snuffing out the chance for things to get better. That moment of darkness can pass if you allow it the chance.

At one of my lowest personal moments, the evening after my first daughter was life-flighted away from us at four days old, we sat bleary-eyed, disoriented, heartbroken, and scared at an all-you-can-eat Golden Corral restaurant in Central Texas a mile from the NICU where she lay attached to monitors and machines. I am fairly certain I ate nothing at that all-you-can-eat circus of horrors, but it didn’t matter where we were, because I was numb and lost. As we sat at that table operating in slow-motion surrounded by people going about lives, we were in a dark reality. While we were there, my dad said that tomorrow will be a better day. Now, he didn’t know that to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt because we did not know what was wrong with our baby. Tomorrow might have been even worse, and brought a darkness we couldn’t fathom.

In this case, he was right and tomorrow was thankfully better, but the point is that I’ve grown to interpret that saying to mean that we need to give tomorrow a chance to be better. The light may realistically take more than one night to appear, but if you hang in there through the darkness, dawn will eventually come in some form. It may be just a sliver of light and hope at first, but it will come if you let it.

That said, you might need help to get through those darkest moments, and that help is out there. That help wants to be the guiding light when you need it. Mental health treatment and treatment for addictions are no different than getting chemotherapy for cancer or casts for broken bones. They aren’t exact sciences, and they aren’t always pleasant, but they are available and can make the difference in seeing the next morning and staying forever in the dark.

Don’t be afraid to be someone else’s light. Sometimes those in the pitch blackness of their own minds can’t always find the way out on their own. They may need you to walk those hardest moments with them. Keep checking in, keep texting, keep calling, keep inviting, keep trying when they can’t. Don’t risk your own safety and know you can’t save the world, but do your best to be a light in what can feel like a sea of dark.

Anthony Bourdain inspired many of us to travel, to push our own boundaries, and to share our travel stories with others. Let him now inspire and remind us to be each other’s light through the dark.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 1-800-273-8255, as is the online Suicide Prevention chat and Crisis Text Line that can be reached by texting 741741, for those who like to communicate with written words more than spoken ones.

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  1. Thank you for these words. I also lost my breath when I saw the news. I don’t have many idols. And he was at the very top.

  2. My fb feed is filled with food writers and travel writers; your post was the one I read at the intersection of the two. Thanks for a beautiful and heartfelt post.

  3. Great story MP. He was in just in my home state for one of his episodes last month. This news hit hard. He’s about the only reason I tune to CNN. RIP Tony.

  4. A very proud dad salutes your sensitivity and wisdom. For those untouched by mental demons, be thankful for your blessing. For those affected, we hope personal peace and a comforting calmness can be found and sustained when chaos comes calling.

  5. Thank you for a beautifully written post. Tony’s death has me reeling, and maybe it is because of the travel connection. I read Kitchen Confidential long before he had his travel shows, and have always felt a connection or maybe more of a longing to have adventures like Anthony Bourdain. So sad.

  6. Your most touching post. So many that are lost to this darkness. May we all find courage to bring light into the parts unknown. Thank you for your beautiful writing.

  7. I didn’t love Anthony Bourdain like most others. I appreciated his writing style but he was a little too brash for me. But suicide is a terrible problem and one that would never be hoped for anyone. I wish his family the best as they deal with this, not only his loss but that he felt this was the right option for him.

    My 16 year old daughter is just joining a local peer help group, she’ll be a sounding board for any of her peers that are having any of a range of problems. She’ll be there to listen and to help them get to those who can help the problem. I’m proud of my daughter that she’s able to and has been nominated by her peers for this help group as someone they could talk to. And I’m mostly glad that this will give me even more reason to be constantly talking to her about how she’s handling what her peers tell her.

    Suicide is an awful blight on our society…

  8. I woke up in the wee hours and saw the sad news. I am sure many tributes will follow, but I am glad I read yours first, Summer. Very touching yet relatable in many ways. Thank you.

    RIP Anthony.

  9. great post. Thanks you. He inspired me to try new things, go new places and really understand people in the places I visit.

  10. Nice tribute MP. I lost my 30 year cousin to suicide 5 years ago and he battled the demons his whole life. I pray those that face the darkness find the support and help they need.

  11. very powerful reflection, MP! Thank you! Your essay is touching, inspiring and comforting to so many of us who have/had loved ones at risk

  12. Anthony’s magic was his humanity. Your tribute to him beautifully riffs on touching that humanity.

    I dare say I have never seen people react to a passing as much as Anthony Bourdain’s!

    • Matt, I think this loss probably did elicit one of the larger public reactions in recent years because so many of us connected to him on some level. Also, death by suicide feels in many ways like a preventable and especially tragic loss that didn’t have to happen. Our planet needs ‘tell it like it is’ folks who are coming from a good place and without the fluff. He was one of those types of good guys. He is missed now, and will be missed even more as time goes on. I hope he inspired a generation of people who will grow to try and fill his shoes.

  13. nicely said, and so true. Sometimes we get so caught up in “stuff” and everyday things, we forget to slow down and connect with those around us. You never know when a kind word can make a difference in someone’s life.

  14. MP, you have touched my heart with what you have written. I know it’s cliche but you are wise beyond your years. You are able to beautifully coalesce your thoughts for your readers. Suicide has shattered our family four times. It is so sad for all.

  15. This may sound strange, but I truly have never been more proud for being a subscriber to a blog. You touch our lives every day. You always make me smile. Bless you.

    • Wow, thank you so much to you and everyone who has said nice things. You never know how these sort of posts will be received, but I couldn’t help but write this one. This loss hurts a lot of us for some complicated reasons, but my hope is there are enough people out there exploring that someone will pick up his torch and share stories in a similarly gritty, empathetic, open, honest, emotional, and inspiring way.

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