By Justin Cude
“As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” – Anthony Bourdain
On the outside, this man seemed to know more about life than everybody; its subtleties and its limits and its secrets alike, and I’m sure on the inside the same, maybe more. I mean, how couldn’t he? The places he’d been, the people he’d met, the pleasures of this life he’d most definitely indulged to the fullest, and the lows he’d cared deeply, and with understanding to speak openly, about. And not only that, but dive into his work; his shows, his writing, his sharing of his life and his experiences. All beautiful works of art in their own right, all poetically crafted and uniquely and meaningfully his own, derived from his acts of doing, not from his assumptions of what if. This man had “the best job in the world”, and we all thought that, and we all said that, and we all believed it to be true, but this story is about much more than a profession. This sends shock waves across generations, around the world, forcing us all to question our own lives, our own values and beliefs, our own sufferings, because that is how broad and how deep his influence reached; spanning cultures and people both young and old and in between, infiltrating our souls and our desires on the basis of our allowing of and our hoping for, and challenging our beings with sensory liberation. This man was an influencer, probably the realest among countless other’s attempts of our generation, and, staying true to his approach towards it all, even in his last act of expression, he kept things real and he brought to the forefront, life.
At the radically experienced age of 61, he was in rare position, enabling him to possess multi-generational influence, ranging from the young and the reckless to the old and the restless. However, age alone did not provide him this effect. Much like ‘The Rolling Stones’, in my fanfare opinion of the pair, he was able to keep current, entangled with the up and coming, while also remaining defiant, engraved with and by the stuff of legends; all with a keen sense of real, all with an innate ability to do so.
Look at me. I’m talking as if I knew the man.
Well, I didn’t. Personally, no. But, nonetheless, I understood his presentation. At least, I tried to. In many ways I’ve tried to embody it, even if only a little, for the attempt to do so promises to be worth it, again, even if only a little.
Authenticity encapsulated this man, rather, authenticity had no chance to hide from him. He would find it and I’m sure he would enjoy it, and then he would tell us about it, and you could not help but be infatuated. Maybe infatuated isn’t the right word, for what he proposed was much more lasting. Infatuated from the onset, yes, but appreciative, all the more from the initial encounter onward. Don’t deny it. He had you thinking. He had you questioning. He had you wondering. And then, he had you acting on it, and you were appreciative for having done so; appreciative of him and of your listening to. And if you haven’t yet, you will be. You’ll see.
Again, this man had it all, and we all believed it to be true; travel, food, freedom; what else? He would be in Hong Kong one moment, perhaps dizzying through the bustling streets, indulging by choice and by circumstance the beautiful frenzy of it all, and Paris the next, maybe accepting the moments expose, directing one to succumb to the city’s subtle but charming asking to simply allow and to enjoy its offerings. But again, I can’t say for sure. I didn’t know this man. Most of his admirers didn’t. This is all assumption, but assumption hinted, supported even, by his heavy persuasion bestowed upon us and by our willingness and eagerness, or maybe our surrendering to, to take on its weight, to abide by its claims and to, again, even if only a little, see for ourselves its truths and its essence.
If you’ve tried then you know. If you haven’t yet, then eventually you will. Maybe, if of course you choose to do so, and if you do it the way he proposed; authentic.
“Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund.”
Look past the glamour of it all though; the food, the travel, the freedom. What really was he presenting? What really was he asking us all to see, or to at least try to?
I believe it to be just that. I believe he was asking us to just see, or, to at least try to; to see all that we are offered and all that we can experience and all that we are able to live through, to feel life through. Don’t just eat the food, but taste it. Don’t just travel somewhere, but become it. Don’t just dream of freedom, but live it and understand it and allow it. It doesn’t truly matter what dish may be served, or what city or escape you find yourself temporarily inhabiting, or what level or what medium of freedom you feel yourself yearning to express, quivering in hesitation before releasing your guilt or your shame or your dogmatic restraints and simply trying. I don’t believe he gave a damn what it was that turned you on, only again, simply that you would try. What else?
“I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find the perfect city travel experience or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one. Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.”
Letting the happy accident happen. How beautiful is that? How perfect does this simple line define our sublime undergo of life? But, unfortunately, how often do we find ourselves willfully protesting against its proclamation, holding firm our restrained consent to simply allow it to be?
I’m not talking about vacation itineraries here, and I don’t believe his words are either in their truest sense. You could just as easily hear him say, “Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of our live’s miss”, and he’d continue to try to push us to allow those things to happen rather than sticking to some rigid plan we have laid out for ourselves, and for that we should be grateful; someone devoting their time in this world to remind us that there is more, and that that more is found here, now, in our letting it happen, not in our planned attempt to take control of it all for some far off future arrival. Besides, how can we expect to have a good experience here without a constant willingness to experience a bad one? The good comes with the bad and we should have it no other way.
But again, this story is about much more than a profession; about much more even than the man himself, and I think we would of liked it that way. Outside the enjoyment of it all, outside of the food, and the travel and the freedom, it reminds us bluntly of the other side which remains, lurking within us all, able and ready and willing to demoralize our efforts, burden our thoughts and our inhalations, tame the very spirit which once burned through our worries and our blockades. This story, however contradicting and sad and surreal it may appear, is much more about our sufferings than it ever will again be about anything else.
His life influenced us all profoundly, but his death, I suspect, will do so all the more, in time and in reflection; it’s happening already has, at least for those who admired him and attempted to emulate his approach. His life and his words and his actions alike first challenged us, then they dared us, then they empowered us, not to withhold from this life, but to withdraw from it; to withdraw all that we can and to share it with all of whom we will and are able. His death I believe has and will continue to do the same. I know it has already for me. At this moment it is challenging me, then at another I am sure it will dare me, and then I believe it will empower me the next, to question everything, to intuitively re-evaluate my values and my beliefs on my own accord, and to be aware and to try to understand my sufferings, as open and as honest as I can. What else?
But, as is always the contemplation following another’s departure; where do we go from here?
“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom… is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”