“Nothing human is alien to me.” On the Passing of Anthony Bourdain

Shortly after the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death spread, a tweet from Robert Wright came across my feed containing a quote from a play by the Roman playwright Terence. The slightly fuller version of the quote is, “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.” (Originally, Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto, if Wikipedia isn’t betraying me.)

Though Robert tweeted it better (and shorter) than anything I could likely type here, and I didn’t originally think I’d type anything on this subject, a couple of thoughts have coalesced that I want to share regarding Anthony Bourdain. This post also concludes what will have become an informal trilogy of posts about him. Please feel free to read part one and part two as you like.

I want to set the scene with a blockquote from part one:

[…] I’ve long thought it must require a considerable ego to be a public personality of any sort, and Bourdain has made remarks concerning notions that his television career may constitute a monument to his. Yes, an ego is required to do what he does. Yes, Bourdain can be abrasive in his expression of some opinions. But to make an assessment of Bourdain purely a matter of ego is to miss the essential and sincere humility he displays when in the presence of those who don’t merely lack his good fortune, but lack the good fortune to live lives free of war, poverty, contempt and disregard. […] And though Bourdain’s journalism may seem soft compared to more conventional—or more adversarial—content, it’s precisely this soft journalism, this elevation and expansion of what might otherwise be the typical, possibly tawdry, two-minute human interest story tacked onto the end of the nightly news, that can be some of the most important and revealing journalism about the human condition.

Though the description above is, I think, a largely accurate one, it occurred to me I was missing something important. I struck me a day or two ago that what we who’ve followed Bourdain’s TV career from his first show to his last have witnessed is a man becoming a better human being. We watched Bourdain grow and evolve from a chain-smoking vessel for the restaurant industry’s spare machismo to a man whose ever-growing empathy and drive to seek out new experiences enabled him to make connections with people all over the world. (A certain talent for wordsmithy didn’t hurt, either.)

And those connections weren’t just between him and who he sat with at a dinner table or bar or campfire. Bourdain shared those connections with us, and through him we became better connected. I can think of no better gift to give than that of meaningful connection, the kind of connection that dispels indifference and bigotry, bringing us all a bit closer together even when thousands of miles apart. Anthony Bourdain gave this gift repeatedly and with gusto.

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