Saudade. The Portuguese have a word to explain perfectly the mourning I feel upon the suicide of Anthony Bourdain. Portugal’s culture gives space and a name to the unrelenting heartsickness I was propelled into yesterday morning when I read the news.
Tony was a writer first, like me, then a cook, then a man filled with curiosity about the world. He showed me an openminded way to approach food: In trying every thing from limpets (horrible) to duck tongue (sublime) I would expose myself to flavors that I would otherwise miss. You didn’t need to like the taste of what you encountered, but instead simply appreciate the culture that conjured such food from its surroundings. Of course, there were also so many delicious things to discover along the way.
Tony did that best—his curiosity about people led me to connect with folks from all over, particularly those coming from different religions, regions, worlds. He taught me to seek common ground with nearly anyone with whom I broke bread. We need more willing navigators of this empathetic track, bridging the distances between us.
Tony considered himself a cook, an accidental professional whose greatest talent in the kitchen was finding joy in the process. From his Les Halles cookbook, I learned the importance of layering flavors into my own stock—and making it dark, dark, dark! Why mess around with anything that doesn’t sing out with sensory happiness?
Tony also showed me Portugal, introducing me to the Açores and to the delights of Lisboa and Porto before I even set foot in this beautiful country. Like other places he’s led me, his observations proved insightful and gave me a springboard from which to ask more questions, probe more deeply, and truly appreciate the place I now embrace every day.
Saudade describes how I feel today…but it in no way describes the reasons behind Tony’s early departure from our lives. Having had a front-row seat to the various faces of depression, in my family and in myself, I know those demons are far worse than the longing wrapping itself around my heart tonight. I’ve already seen comments in shock and grief expressing “why, why?” when he seemed to be at the pinnacle of his fortune in life, but also a loving father, a proud, supportive partner, and a clear voice to speak truth to the bullies in our midst. Like when a friend falls victim to cancer, who did “all the right things” but still succumbed, it’s natural for us to ask why.
Those fellow travellers who have wrestled with the beast of depression know when you’re at that pinnacle, this is exactly when the illness can plunge you to its deepest point. That voice from your unhealthy mind convinces you with persistence: “I don’t deserve this.” Or: “They’d be better off without me.” Or: “I can end the pain now before the real mess begins.” When I faced my darkest period, I was making more money than I ever had before in my life, I was in a loving partnership, and had a job that looked ideal on the surface. I had so much ahead of me—on paper. But getting out of bed most mornings took everything I had.
When cancer strikes you as a healthy person, no one blames you, generally, and you get to fight the battle in the open, with specialized support, multiple therapies, and a lot of positive thinking from those around you. But no one throws a two-day walk dressed in pink to fund a cure for depression—yet so many of us have waged the battle every day in silence. Because we still blame depression far too often on the patient. This is wrong and must end.
Depression is not saudade, where we drink a garafa de vinho and sing fado in commiseration, and cry a bit for catharsis. Depression hides its markers in subtle ways. It’s another form of cancer we must fight—or we will keep losing our brightest lights.
This world needed more Tony, not less. And we missed that chance.