As I have trod the ancient streets of Europe this week, I haven't felt out of my element, scared, or timid at all. I have tried to conduct myself not as an entitled tourist, but as a citizen of the world, respectful of the people and the cultures around me and up for whatever adventure might come my way.
The fact is, I have come a long way from being a kid from up the holler to someone confident in other countries and around other cultures. When I was a kid, we didn't travel much. A big trip for us was Myrtle Beach or Gatlinburg. I had no desire to go out of the country, or even "up north." I thought my culture was superior to others, and I didn't really care what else was out in the world. In fact, in the religious tradition in which I grew up, being "worldly" was frowned upon as an egregious sin.
When I was in my twenties, my whole worldview began to shift. From Mexico and Belize to the Dominican Republic to Belgium, I have had amazing experiences abroad. I can thank two people for that: Anthony Bourdain and Rick Steves.
Watching them travel the world, eat amazing food, and make friends in far-flung places inspired me to go out and explore the world myself. I credit these two with first helping me to understand the idea of the world as a single community. It wasn't until I began watching Bourdain's "No Reservations" and Steves' "Europe" that I first began to feel a burning desire to go see the world myself.
I learned of Bourdain's suicide today while I was taking a walking tour of the University of Leiden in Holland. It was not lost on me the reality that I was engaging in the very thing I would have never done had Bourdain not inspired me. While I have never really struggled with serious depression, I suffered one bout of it several years ago when things were not going so well in my life. Ironically, one of the things that helped me cope with depression was watching Bourdain's show. In "No Reservations," I found hope and realized that my anticipated future travels were something to look forward to. It got me through an incredibly shitty part of my life and pushed me to get to a point where I could see the world, and for that I am grateful.
I suppose I should have been shocked by Bourdain's suicide, but I have come to know that seldom are we aware of the true struggles of others. Suicide is not foreign to me. My mother attempted suicide on at least six occasions. A couple of years before she died, her husband killed himself in front of her. I know many others who have attempted suicide at some point. Even if it's invisible or stigmatized, suicide exists in our own circles no matter how much we would like to pretend it doesn't.
Friends, we never really know what those around us are going through. When someone you love is struggling, know that it is okay to ask if they are thinking about hurting themselves. Even if you aren't equipped to handle the answer, asking the question might save a life. Being uncomfortable about the answer you might get is better than losing someone you care about. Even if you aren't equipped to provide the help a suicidal friend needs, you can be a supporting presence and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They can help.
If we could all hear the prayers of others, God would have a whole lot less work to do. As we struggle to understand the suicide of someone so many of us love, I hope we will look around us to see what we can do for those struggling in our own communities.