All too frequently I write a column and then, figuratively speaking, I put it on the shelf. In actuality, the column disappears into the depths of my computer until the spirit moves me, and I retrieve it and submit it to the powers that be at The Malibu Times. I probably have more than 20 pieces ready to go at any given time, but I write when I am moved to, not when a deadline demands it.
This brings me to Anthony Bourdain and a humor column I wrote about him which has been languishing somewhere inside my computer for well over a year.
The premise of the column was how I envied him: “I consider myself blessed. I don’t want for anything, and I am jealous of nobody, perhaps with the exception of one man—Anthony Bourdain. Yes. Anthony Bourdain. This is a man who literally has his cake and eats it too. He undoubtedly has the best job in the world.”
The column closes with the following, “So you might think that I would like to step right into Bourdain’s shoes and be somebody I am not. You bet I would!”
Humor is of the moment. Back when I wrote this, the words might have brought a smile to the reader. Now the words seem eerily sad.
The simple fact is, with very few exceptions, we don’t really know the personal struggles people are going through. Despite all the publicity surrounding celebrities, we really don’t begin to know them, and sometimes we don’t even know the demons our own friends and family members are battling.
For most of us it is simply incomprehensible that some people are hurting so badly they would take their own lives rather than endure whatever afflicts them. No, I’m not talking about an end of life decision by a terminally ill patient, but rather the decision a person makes to end life in its prime.
I am still haunted by something that happened when I was mayor almost 50 years ago. I was crossing the lobby of City Hall when an old friend whom I hadn’t seen since elementary school accosted me. In one arm he held a miniature collie and with the other hand he grabbed mine and wouldn’t let go. He seemed manic and demanded I meet with him then, but I was running late and asked if he could make an appointment with my secretary.
I left and a few moments later he had a nervous breakdown right there in City Hall. He was institutionalized for a month, and upon his release, he killed himself. Intellectually, I understand I was not responsible for his death, but I still feel guilty that I could have done something to save him.
I guess the lesson from all this is to be kind to others as much as possible since we don’t know the pain they are experiencing, and don’t be tricked by the superficial smile or laugh. Give your friends and loved ones a physical hug, if possible, and a verbal hug, if not.
If one you care about sounds despondent, don’t be afraid, however awkward it may feel, to ask them whether they have thought about suicide, and encourage that person to seek professional help.
And finally, don’t ever wish to be in somebody else’s shoes. Those shoes might feel very uncomfortable once you walk in them.