Like the wide world, I was horrified and sad to read that Anthony Bourdain, mere days after Kate Spade, had taken his own life. Matt and I can never agree on what to watch of an evening. He wants to bask in interesting, suspenseful, plot-driven, beautifully filmed programs and movies that enrich his mind and appreciation of humanity and the world. I want to scroll past cat videos on YouTube. Anthony Bourdain rambling over the globe, tasting food and life itself, staring sadly off into the distance, musing on the emptiness of it all, was our only meeting point. The episodes came out and we plunked down the money to see them. We didn’t have to travel because he did. And every time he went to Africa I wept silently into my Old Vine Zin from miserable homesickness.
But the nihilism was strong, and though it made for great writing and television, every time I watched Tony eating something I know I will never get to eat, and see vistas I will never see with my own mortal eyes, and touch his feet down on exotic and charming cobblestone streets, I was able to say to myself, ‘I don’t get to have that now, but this isn’t all there is. I am going to a better country to taste sweeter food. I can muck it out with my weekly Aldi pizza because this life is a pale shadow of what’s to come.’
Which is the only grip I have on this life, frankly. Knowing that eternity lies before me is the only tether I have to the ground. I am not casting about to find some meaning for myself amidst all the various enchanting possibilities. It is not up to me to assemble an explanation for my life, to gather up experiences, tastes, and moments and patch them together into something to carry me over the distant, though ever encroaching, threshold of death.
Isolation is the bread, the souring wine of our common experience. But it’s not just each person stuck with his phone, rushing from one production meeting to the next, each lonely person sucking down ramen in front of Netflix on a Friday night, each soul’s half closed eyes, head rested against the window, enduring an everlasting traffic light, facing a friendless workday and a lonely evening after that. If that were all, we’d have found a cure already. No, it’s that each and every person is tasked with the impossible job of constructing a personal reason to exist.You have to do this for yourself, and you mostly have to do it alone. No one can possibly know what you should be doing and who you should be and what you should think about yourself and the world. There’s nothing beyond here, unless you want to believe there is. You came from nothing and are going to nothing, and you are spoiling the cosmos by inches. Sure, there are obligations—to yourself, and to your friends and family—but nobody knows where they came from or how to live them out. It’s just you, for the duration of your life, having to find a reason to exist.
In answer to this catastrophic break down of meaning, this untethering of the self from all other selves and from the source of the self, the church proffered The Purpose Driven Life, followed by a muddle of social and prosperity gospel options that purported to answer the ache with an accumulation of promises—happiness, stuff, a special purpose all your own, and social acceptance. But the promises are this moment falling flat, empty, blowing away as the handfuls of dust they are. Because it’s still up to you. You’re still the lonely center. Which is a sadness too great for many people to bear.
The only solution is to return once more to the true Christian gospel. To say again the plain words that you were not created to be alone, that all your search for meaning in yourself just pulls you evermore away from the one who created you to be with Him, that you are a person who will go on forever, that this time is essentially very short, and that if you will grab onto the One who made you, you will discover that He came a great distance to be with you, to rescue you from the most isolating and terrible experience any human suffers—relying on yourself.
When you find him you won’t suddenly stop being depressed. You won’t immediately know why you are here or what you should be doing. You’ll need to keep taking all your medicines. You’ll still find yourself crawling through each day, helpless and even feeling alone. But you won’t actually be alone. Because the new friend that you have sticketh closer than a brother. He takes over your very self to carry you the distance himself. It’s not up to you anymore. He, being life, gives you the sure and certain hope of a life that is never broken and that can never fade away.