“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move.” – Anthony Bourdain
This week brought a torrent of sadness, a slap in the face, waking us up to the fact that the human condition can be too hard to bear. It is a struggle to imagine what was the precise moment Anthony Bourdain, brilliant traveler and modern cultural historian, decided to take the belt off of a robe in the marble bathroom of his five-star hotel in Kaysersberg, France and put a capper to his earthly experience. It is hard to comprehend what made Kate Spade, darling of every starlet with cash to spend on her handbags, take a red silk scarf and wave goodbye to every pain life had brought her in lieu of the unknown. And it is impossible to conceive what was going through young author and winner of every literary award including the Genius Award, David Foster Wallace, when he bid his wife farewell on a grocery run and swiftly ended his life in the same manner. I believe loneliness is the simplest and most complex answer.
“I feel like Quasimodo the hunchback of Notre Dame if he stayed in nice hotel suites with high-thread-count sheets, that would be me.” Bourdain said. “I feel kind of like a freak, and I feel very isolated. I’m not going to get a lot of sympathy from people. I go anywhere I want, I do what I want. That guy over there loading sausages onto the grill, that’s work. This is not so bad. It’s alright. I’ll make it.”
It is infuriating that people can be so naïve to be of the opinion that because someone has been successful in their chosen field, born into financially stability, or adored by masses of strangers that this somehow renders them exempt from the torment of loneliness and the plight of the human condition. From the schoolyard to the workplace to the nursing home, we are alone.
Anthony Bourdain took us around the globe, charming, humble and almost too sensitive when you took a good look into his eyes. He found a common denominator in each disparate culture and every episode was a history lesson from Armenia to Portugal, India, Hong Kong and Jerusalem to Berlin. It was in Buenos Aires where Bourdain visited a psychotherapist, "Argentina has the distinction of being home to more headshrinkers per capita than anywhere else in the world," Bourdain said during the episode. “I need somebody to talk to,” he confessed.
He spoke of a recurring dream. “I’m stuck in a vast old Victorian hotel with endless rooms and hallways trying to check out, but I can’t,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in hotels, but this one is menacing because I just can’t leave it. And then there’s another part to this dream, always, where I’m trying to go home but I can’t quite remember where that is.”
Lucky are we that have family and friends that can shake us out of the temporary but very real horror of mental instability. I have a group of friends in Kentucky and we call ourselves The Happiness Group. A few years ago, when I returned home to live in my Aunt Toss’s farmhouse on Pisgah Pike, we had meetings every few weeks and talked about different ways to be happy. Stacy Yelton spent her life as a music coordinator and DJ for Lexington’s WKQQ, Kopana Terry was the drummer for her band Stealin Horses before becoming the Curator of Newspapers and Oral History Archivist for the University of Kentucky Library. Deb Chenault is the owner/artist of a jewelry business, Twelfth House Designs. Jeanne Marie Hibberd is the former development and communications director for the Hindmen Settlement School. Both women live in Berea. We joke about creating a retirement community one day. When one of us is down, troops will rally with a diffuser pumping out Jasmine, Thai Food and the space and support to cry, laugh, stuff ourselves with ice cream or put the hurting one in a car and drive to the ocean or at least a swimming pool. Water being the best healer I have found.
The idea is to never be alone too long with our fragile psyche. The more we talk and recognize this is a problem, the less we will have to wonder what went wrong when one of us leaves the party too early.