This was supposed to be my usual coverage of Rise and Drive. I had typed out a brief intro, a few words on a handful of notable cars in attendance with accompanying photos, but it felt like something more needed to be said. When Anthony Bourdain ended his own life this past Friday, it stuck with me. I felt a need to honor him in some way. Putting it in print, even if on a relatively small speck of the blogosphere, seemed the only way I knew how. I’d planned a closing paragraph after the usual car stuff, dedicated to explaining how he both entertained and inspired me. I struggled to find the right words that didn’t seem shallow or superficial to my ear. I went for a drive to clear my head, trying to summon the prose that would give a fitting tribute. I finished that paragraph, and it still seemed woefully inadequate. I mulled over why his death effected me as it did, why I felt so strongly compelled to put into words something bigger than “rest in peace”. I went back to watch old episodes of Parts Unknown. As I watched images of the finest meals being constructed, I was snacking on the best PB&J I could muster and sipping some locally distilled Koval bourbon. I decided I needed to do more, I needed something better. I crumpled the page, and pitched it into the trash bin across the room. We won’t be talking about cars in this one.
For those unfamiliar with Anthony Bourdain’s work, he was an accomplished chef, best selling author, TV host, and a world traveling rock star of the culinary world. He was, above all else, an amazing story teller who used food as the conduit to explore the best in humanity. His work inspired many would-be chefs, writers, world travelers, and it inspired me as well. I am not prone to being overly sentimental with celebrity deaths, but with Bourdain it was different. Perhaps it was because he was someone that found success in writing and story telling, something I aspire to. Was it simply that I had idolized him? Last year, my daughter read one of my articles and remarked that it reminded her a little of an Anthony Bourdain narrative. I felt a thousand feet tall. So sure, I idolized him a bit. It could be the way he carried himself when I saw him on screen or on stage, the mix of friendly, generous, adventurous, and slightly renegade spirit that was so endearing. Mostly, I realized, those elements I saw in Bourdain reminded me of my dad, who passed several years ago, not the same cause, but with nearly the same suddenness and at a similar age. The confluence of these realizations, sent me into a cavern of self reflection, contemplating the nature of depression, and examining how the loss of these two men affected me.
We often do not fully appreciate the people around us, or see them for who they are, until we no longer have them. It’s not necessarily out of malice or selfishness; the ever present noise and activity that is the treadmill of life can blind the best of us. Sometimes the people we hold dear, are such a constant, that it becomes difficult to distinguish the ever present beacon of warm light they bring to our lives from all the background noise. The reality is, we just can’t fully fathom all the little ways others impact us, until they are no longer with us. Sure, we know they support us, inspire us, motivate us, defend us, and love us, but we just don’t understand the depths of it, the minutiae of that love, until their absence creates that distinct and palpable void. You always know these important people in your life mean a lot to you, but you are never prepared for the myriad of little voids they leave behind. When my own father passed, I experienced it first hand. Gone from my world, is his glowing smile and firm pat on the back when we’d visit. Missing is the way I felt when he’d be impressed by my seemingly mundane accomplishments, like making him a good cuban coffee. The feeling of satisfaction I’d feel whenever I made my dad proud, only now in my memory. The man made me feel like a hero, just for being myself. Bourdain’s passing this week, had me confronting many emotions about both of their deaths and re-opening old scars that never fully healed. I always loved watching Bourdain’s shows, reading his articles, and even seeing him live on stage. After my dad passed, it became even more meaningful, because it was like seeing a tiny bit of my dad’s spirit alive and enjoying new adventures on screen. I recognized in Bourdain’s interactions with others, that same wonder and respect that I felt with my dad, that made them feel like heroes for the work they did, their story, who they were. I saw the same sense of justice in Bourdain as I saw in my dad, both always seemed willing to speak up for the underdog. Even Bourdain’s history of struggling with demons and depression, I saw similar in my own father. Losing Bourdain was sad enough, but with those parallels drawn in my heart and mind, losing Bourdain was a little like losing my dad all over again.
Depression impacts everyone, to varying degrees, we all deal with it in our own way. It can roll in like a fog, slowly growing heavier. It can come on suddenly like a violent thunderstorm. Sometimes it can even be a constant rain in the background, occasionally falling heavier than can be ignored. It comes during hard times, but it often comes in the good times as well. What should be an otherwise joyful occasion is tainted by the storms, the internal darkness at odds with the light around you. Surrounded by beauty, warmth, and happiness, the rain just feels colder. Yet we fight through the storm, trying to follow those beacons of warm light that are your family, friends, idols, therapists, your religion, any and all that can help pull us out of the tempest of depression. Sadly, many succumb to the storm. I can only speculate why, the reasons can be numerous and complex. Maybe they didn’t get the help they needed, perhaps it gets too strong to fight off, or perhaps they forget that they themselves are a beacon of warm light to countless others enduring the storm. If you’re reading this, remember that truth, it’s important. You are important. We’ll miss you Tony.
-writing and photos: Robert Sixto