Let’s talk about suicide

OP-ED

 

Maybe Anthony Bourdain’s last travelogue will lead us on a journey in which we learn to take better care of each other.


I was brushing my teeth yesterday morning when my phone screen lit up with a breaking news alert. It is not unusual for the New York Times to ping me with tidbits they think I’ll find interesting, but since the phone was near the sink, and since I often have nothing better to do while brushing my teeth than scanning Twitter, I picked up the phone, turned the screen back on, and read:

Anthony Bourdain, whose memoir about the dark corners of New York’s restaurants started a TV career, died at 61. CNN said the cause was suicide.

I’m not sure how to describe the kind of reader I am, but I knew within the first four words that Bourdain was dead. Still, I had to read it twice–is that right? possible? The final sentence was a sucker punch.

I was in the seventh grade when one of our classmates committed suicide. He wasn’t someone I knew well, but even then I remembered the chilling coldness that came in understanding a living, breathing human being made the deliberate decision to stop living and breathing.

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Bourdain and Sunday Supper

IN MEMORIAM

Anthony Bourdain visits the Build Series to discuss “Raw Craft” at AOL HQ on November 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

Anthony Bourdain taught me to look deeper into what I eat, what it says about me, and how to find empathy at the dinner table.


AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post originally appeared on an earlier iteration of this blog and was published on June 3, 2012. Today (June 8, 2018), news broke that Anthony Bourdain was found dead in France of an apparent suicide. 

Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations has long been a favorite show of mine. It’s one of the few television series that has earned the “season pass” setting on my DVR, which means I’ve instructed the Great TV Wizard who lives in the satellite box below my wide screen to seek out every new episode he can find and bring it back for my own viewing pleasure. I love the Great TV Wizard.

All of that’s about to change, though. Bourdain, who has been the darling child of the Travel Channel since his show broke out in 2005, has been poached by (of all channels) CNN. Travel didn’t renew No Reservations. Anderson Cooper snagged him. Even good things come to an end.

What I have long appreciated about Bourdain’s show is his thesis statement that food is a cornerstone of humanity. I saw it in the very first episode I stumbled upon, in which Tony toured Jamaica. What we eat, how we eat it, where we eat it, and with whom we eat it speaks volumes about who we are.

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Put me in, Coach

LIFE WITH KIDDOS

Coaching varsity track was how I taught students in my English classes the concept of irony. And then came rec league soccer.


Fourteen years ago or so, over a holiday break, my principal called to talk to me about coaching varsity track and field at the high school where I was teaching English. The problems with that idea should have been obvious to me. I didn’t know the first thing about track, after all–I only ran in cases of emergency. I’d never even been to a track meet. My idea of a track coach was the gym teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off who chased kids around in a golf cart.

Life has its way of putting me into odd places, though, and soon that cold February I found myself on a rough asphalt ring behind the gym trying desperately to look like I knew what I was doing. I filled the time with running and sprinting drills–things I felt relatively sure about–but when it came time to fill out my first meet sheet (the roster of which athletes on your team will participate in which events), I remember having a conversation with one of the assistant coaches, Meaghann, in which she discovered I had no clue how it worked. If we’d been coaching football, it would have been as if she realized I didn’t know that you called plays for each down.

In time, we began to earn respectable finishes in our conference meets. We advanced teams to regional track events and even state track meets. I nagged the county athletic director until our school got a new track facility placed on the system’s capital improvements plan.

Occasionally I’d step in something that proved I still had a fragile grasp of how to coach serious sprinters, distance runners, jumpers, and throwers. And now and then a grumpy parent would loudly complain from the stands about what I wasn’t getting right. My gut reaction in those instances was to march into the bleachers, hand said parent my clipboard and stopwatch, and walk away.

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