A Temple or an Amusement Park?

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Like many, I was very emotionally distraught over the suicide of Anthony Bourdain. And though it’s hard not looking at what he accomplished in life with awe and wonder, I was not interested in looking at his success or value to the community at the time of his death. To me, it said much more that someone who seemed to have the life every cook longed for, was actually discontent enough to kill himself.

I will never forget how I felt that day or in the days that followed. My cousin and I quickly created the below comic strip as a means of expression, but also because we felt like society as a whole was missing an emotion. There was plenty of love and sadness for sure, but not many came out as angry at him for his final message to the world. The message I heard that day was, “It’ll never be good enough for any of you.”

I wrote the dialogue for the strip, but my cousin added in the part of me admitting I know about dealing with depression. Point being, is I don’t think I ever would’ve drawn this conclusion on my own. Why? Because society’s relationship with depression is so bad, that burying my sadness seemed like a much better option for me than admitting I can frequently be overwhelmed by it..

The week of his suicide, I went up to Milwaukee for Father’s Day brunch with my family. Everyone knew how much Bourdain meant to me, so when the topic of his suicide came up, everyone  expressed their condolences. I started in about the message he sent to the many chefs I know who worshipped him, and then switched to the general topic of depression. 

And just like that, stone cold silence engulfed the table. It was more than the word itself, though the stigma around it is undeniable and quite profound. It seemed more to me as if the emotion of sadness was the problem. I saw then how it was that I never would have drawn the conclusion so obvious to my cousin. I now know it was because I had been taught to look away from sadness since the time I was a little kid.

Sadness, as I learned from watching Inside Out several times with my kids, is actually inextricable from happiness. Like many, many things in life, it’s a duality. So if you avoid your sadness your whole life, don’t be surprised when your happiness goes away too one day.

The feelings of abandonment have resided a bit in the last year, and the pieces of the puzzle fit together a little better for me. Just like almost every cook I know, it was going through really hard times as a kid that probably led Bourdain into kitchens in the first place. I think about his autobiographical testament, Kitchen Confidentials, and the way he portrays his life rising the ranks in the restaurant industry. Tales of debauchery, drug abuse, and the overall grind of being a chef were on display in such a beautiful manner. He humanized the chef experience in a way that resonated with both industry and the general populace alike. But I’ve come to believe that Tony’s pain and suffering had been there all along. In fact, it’s right there in those pages.

From the outside looking in, his path was the envy of almost every chef I knew. His approach to his dark side taught me how to peel back the layers of my own frailties. And not only as a chef, but also as a human. I learned from him that being fucked up was also in a contrary way, what made me beautiful. I held him on such a high pedestal, that when he came in to dine in EL iIdeas in 2012, it was as if the Pope himself were coming in.

And though I didn’t judge him at the time, I watched him rip his producer a new asshole outside the restaurant. Just another chef with anger issues, I thought. In fact, I feel like I cheered him on. I told myself that he wears his passion on his sleeve, just like I do, and blowing up is just a residual effect of caring so much.

And though blowing up helps me at first, I can still feel the discontent that keeps brewing within. In fact, my blowups feel more and more intense to me as I get older. Through years of  therapy and hours of daily meditation, I’ve learned that my anger is little more than a manifestation of my sadness. In fact, I can still care and be as passionate as I’ve ever been, even without blowing up.

I will always struggle with my anger and my sadness. If I don’t, my daughters will never have a road map for dealing with their own. And that brings me to the crux of all the mindfulness, the comic, and even life going forward. If I can’t tap into myself, and find I’m already enough, I will never be enough for my wife, kids, family, friends, colleagues, and my community. 

I was handed a photograph of Bourdain recently with his quote beside his image, “You’re body is not a temple… it’s an amusement park… enjoy the ride.” I feel like it’s time to rethink this quote. Sure, my body may not be a temple for anyone else, but it’s the only one I’ve got. And what goes in is what comes out. I love my cotton candy and corn dogs to be sure, but I also like spending less time feeling like crap in the Port-O-Potty. Because a life lived off balance will eventually tip over. 


Phillip Foss