I was surprised and saddened to hear that Anthony Bourdain had taken his own life. Though I never met him in person, his acclaimed CNN series, “Parts Unknown” was a favorite of mine, and I often thought that we would make good travel companions. In addition to being the same age, we shared similar interests in people, places, food, wine and martial arts (he was a student of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu). As a former Professional Chef and Restaurateur, I related to his passion and the way he spoke of “food as an entryway”. It is so true. In restaurants and homes all over the world friendships are formed, love is ignited and family bonds are strengthened around tables where food and wine serve as the entryway to a banquet where lives and love are shared.
Bourdain said of the huge success of his Television Series…”We ask simple questions. What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions, we tend to get some really astonishing answers.”
Yet the success, fame and money that followed were not enough to fend off the darkness that crept into Anthony’s life or the life of designer Kate Spade who took her own life only days before. In fact according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in a recently published report suicide rates for the overall population in the U.S. have risen nearly 30% since 1999. So why are so many more Americans getting to this level of emotional despair than in the past?
In a recent article in “First Things” (http://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/08/dying-of-despair), Dr. Aaron Kheriaty a UC Irvine psychiatrist explores the general issue of suicide. He diagnoses the causes of our crisis as coming from a loss of hope and the decline of religious practice.
What Dr. Kheriaty explores in his very good article is not entirely new. If you happened to take psychology 101 in college you might remember Carl Jung, one of the fathers of psychoanalysis along with Freud. He writes in “Man in Search of his Soul” published in 1933…
“However far-fetched it may sound, experience shows that many neuroses are caused by the fact that people blind themselves to their own religious promptings because of a childish passion for rational enlightenment. The psychologist of today ought to realize once and for all that we are no longer dealing with questions of dogma and creed. A religious attitude is an element in psychic life whose importance can hardly be overrated. And it is precisely for the religious outlook that the sense of historical continuity is indispensable.”
“Among all of my patients in the second half of life, that is to say over thirty-five, there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers and not one of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.”
“There is nothing that can free us from this bond except that opposite urge of life, the Spirit. It is not the children of the flesh, but the “children of God” who know freedom.
In Ernst Barlach’s tragic novel of family life, Der Tote Tag, the mother-daemon says at the end: “The strange thing is that man will not learn that God is his father.” That is what Freud would never learn, and what all those who share his outlook forbid themselves to learn. At least, they never find the key to this knowledge. Theology does not help those who are looking for the key, because theology demands faith, and faith cannot be made: it is in the truest sense a gift of grace. We moderns are faced with the necessity of rediscovering the life of the Spirit; we must experience it anew for ourselves. It is the only way in which we can break the spell that binds us to the cycle of biological events.”
So what can we do to bring hope to an oftentimes dark and hungry world?
First realize that we all have this hunger; we’re all looking for something more. God put that hunger in us. St. Augustine said it the best: “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless till we rest in you.”
Jesus calls each of us to bring light to the world. He calls us to go out to dispel the darkness and to lead the lost and hungry to the banquet. Said another way, Evangelization is one hungry person showing another hungry person where to find food. I would hope that if my path had crossed with Anthony Bourdain’s I might have asked him a few simple questions, ”What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook?” And as we talked and shared our dreams if Tony had said, “Yet I’m still hungry, I still desire something more” I pray that I would have pointed him to the only banquet that could ever truly fill that hunger. “This is my body given for you”!
“It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”—St. John Paul ll
I pray that each of us has the courage to be a light that leads the hungry to the banquet while there is still time. I pray for Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and all of our brothers and sisters suffering from depression and thoughts of suicide.