The news about Anthony Bourdain’s early death by suicide hit me hard this morning. His travelogues were sensitive and insightful, particularly about the fragility and beauty of the human experience. Even as he experienced genuine highs in his exploration of the world, he clearly found meaningful connection in more intimate moments simply connecting with new friends on an individual basis. Travel is broadening in the way it opens us up to new cultures but also in the way it puts us into contact with other human beings.
Travel also has its cost. It’s become a bit of a joke that the secret to a happy life is to go travel the world, eat good food, and gather unique experiences. This is what blessed people are supposed to do while the rest of us are stuck in the various hometowns we cannot escape. To the extent to which we consider travel a panacea for our boredom, it will always disappoint. Not that this is what Bourdain thought he was doing, but his life proves that a man can live a beautiful, meaningful existence that is greatly envied and yet peace is still fleeting. For a certain personality (mine) travel is a fraught experience. I love it, but when I return to my every day existence the crushing reality of homesickness settles in like nausea. This, I want to be clear, is after I return home. Everyone’s psychological landscape is unique, but in the distant past I was clinically depressed. I’ve since recovered to a great extent, but I shudder to think how travel would often make my situation worse.
Travel is still worth the effort, but it forces us into a confrontation with the basic fact that this world is not our home. That everywhere we go, we leave behind somewhere else. In our wake is the detritus of old friends, the ghosts of college towns, pictures of beaches that have long since ceased to bear the mark of our footprints.
In his travelogue Remote People, Evelyn Waugh is brutally honest about the psychological cost of travel. He writes about how we tell stories of travel with selective memory, forgetting the pains and inconveniences, but also the one, inescapable, supremely devastating terror of melancholic personalities – boredom. He writes, “The boredom of civilized life is terminable and trivial…I am constantly a martyr to boredom, but never in Europe have I been so desperately and degradingly bored as I was [while traveling]”. He then delicately dissects the concept of human boredom, writing from a hotel in the heart of Africa while waiting for a steamship whose arrival is indeterminate. The point being, no matter where we are or what we are doing, a human being must struggle with the highs and lows of existence. Travel is a beautiful thing, but it isn’t a magic pill to solve the existential sickness that ails us.
Waugh manages to return to London after an absence of several months in Africa and finds himself immediately bored. He ends up in a trendy underground club, surrounded again by the gossip and wit of high class society. He drinks fancy drinks, sees fancy clothes, hears trendy music. Why travel? “Just watch London knock spots off the Dark Continent,” he writes. Where ever we find ourselves, we are in the midst of it.
Life is achingly fragile, and we go forth like a dream. Love each other. Love life, and always remember that even in our lowest moments, we are aching for Home.