When They Leave
On Anthony Bourdain, and me, and you
When we look at a mountain we see one face of it, and even if we wake up and gaze at that same mountain every single morning of our lives, we do not see its wholeness. We can hike it, fly over it, traverse its circumference a thousand times and still we won’t see its entirety, every layer, every element, every atom. To know a mountain, or a person, is to see a whole being in its fullness at all times in all seasons — every mood, every moment. If there is a God, this is what God sees. But we are not gods, and so our view, no matter how vast, is always partial.
I admire Anthony Bourdain as much as anyone who never met the man could. I say “admire” in the present tense rather than the past because I don’t see a future in which I will not admire him, and I certainly don’t live in a present moment in which I have anything less than absolute respect for the man, be he here, elsewhere, or nowhere.
In 2001, the Taliban blew up a pair of giant medieval-era statues of the Buddha in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of Afghanistan, northwest of Kabul. At 115 and 175 feet tall, carved out of a cliff, the Buddhas adorned part of the Silk Road that runs from China through the Hindu Kush mountain region onward to parts west. For centuries, they inspired awe. How could humans with such limited means build towering monuments like these? And then they were gone, profanely smote to smithereens in a giant “fuck you” to cultural diversity, to real history, to heritage, and to international presence.
I admire them still, though they are dust.
You don’t forget what emerges from the earth, or what returns to it.
I’m not here to analyze Bourdain’s leaving. His reasons were his own. He has given us all the words we’ll ever have from him, and he’s given us plenty, and I am grateful for them. I don’t need his final words. They are for someone else, or for no one at all. And while I do not have personal anecdotes to share about Anthony Bourdain, I do have something to say about the manner in which he left us.
It’s the way Kate Spade left us this same week, the way many artists and scholars and teachers and seers have left us, the way my friend the football and lacrosse star left us in high school, the way…