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The Suicide of Anthony Bourdain

“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:11

I have been thinking frequently about the life and untimely death of Anthony Bourdain since the news of his suicide broke last week. Even if you’re not a foodie, you’ve probably heard of him, and those of us that share some measure of obsession with the culinary arts most certainly followed his exploits.

Bourdain came up through the restaurant ranks in a legit way, starting as a dishwasher and becoming an exec chef by earning the right as a line cook and sous chef on the way. In 2000 he wrote “Kitchen Confidential” – a memoir subtitled “Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.” The book was a smash, rose to bestseller and launched Bourdain’s career as a tectonic force in the industry, leading to multiple award-winning foods and travel shows. He had a unique and sardonic view of life, but his love of experience and his deep affection for people was always front and center.

Bourdain worked hard and played hard, wore all his emotions on his sleeve, and drew us into his exotic world of strange food and backroads travel by telling captivating stories to an audience that felt like we were in the room with him, being regaled by a clever friend who genuinely wanted us to taste what he tasted and feel what he felt. He was someone who drank deeply and had the gift of eloquent storytelling.

When Anthony Bourdain became rich and famous, the world became his oyster. He dined and drank the finest – and strangest — food with kings and presidents and people from every mean street. He traveled everywhere and did everything, and because he showed it to us we didn’t resent him for it. We may not have wanted, necessarily, to be Anthony Bourdain, but it would have been amazing to hang out for a week or two. What a full, rich and blessed life. What more could anyone ask for?

Indeed.

It was out of this same exotic life that the Preacher of Ecclesiastes – most likely King Solomon – told his readers stories of power, pleasure, and excess. Solomon had the wealth and position to indulge in everything available, and he did that with a vengeance. He was on a mission that wouldn’t be over until every worldly pleasure had been explored. It’s the same human drive that powers the lottery industry. “If I just had more of this – money, time, looks – I could do/have more of that, and I’d be happy.”

But from Solomon’s day until ours, it’s never been true. To the degree that we strive after wealth and experience, pleasure and self-indulgence, whether it be through food, sex, travel, possessions or even wisdom and respect, we are striving after wind. It will never satisfy because it was never meant to.

And that, friends, is the final – and most significant – story heard from the modern-day Solomon who ended his own life last week. In the end, Tony Bourdain knew what we so often forget: there is nothing – absolutely nothing — the world can offer that will fill the void in our souls.

That spot has been designed by and reserved for the Spirit of the One who created it. You can’t hammer a mismatched puzzle piece into that opening and be satisfied with the result. I can spend my meager life and resources aiming at fulfillment, but I’ll never have the opportunities either of these men had to be satisfied – and neither of them was, apart from God. Lord! Don’t let me miss the message!

Anthony Bourdain’s life-ending despair is a terrible tragedy, made even more wrenching by the likelihood that it was driven by his unwillingness to look to the Lover of his soul for help and hope. In the end, the simple man toiling in the mission field, preaching the gospel, finds the joy and satisfaction that Tony Bourdain was looking for.

Solomon ends his tale this way: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Put in our parlance, trust God and follow him, for this is your only hope and only hope for joy. Lord, give us the grace to live and share this life-giving truth!

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