This has been an eventful week in the world of news. My province, Ontario, has just elected a new premier and a party that has not been in power since I was in high school. I am now in my 30’s. But the Canadian news has been overshadowed by the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Both were cultural icons who brought colors into the world. Kate Spade, literally. With lines of colorful handbags and other accessories that adorn women of all ages, Kate Spade was, is and always will be a household name, although she had not been involved in the business for a long time. Anthony Bourdain introduced the world to cuisines from every corner of the globe. An award-winning travel documentarian, a journalist, as well as a well-known chef, Bourdain took me on a journey around the world almost every week to learn about cultures and politics, through food, of course! Parts Unknown was a must-see and I remember waiting anxiously for the next season every year. His cultural sensitivity made him a beloved TV icon, not just within my family but around the world. His sudden death was deeply shocking. There will never be another Parts Unknown season. There will never be another Bourdain. All we have left of him are reruns and books including the best seller “Kitchen Confidential”.
It is likely that Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade did not cross paths in life, but their deaths this week hit me really hard. An underlying theme is the toll of depression on sometimes even seemingly infallible characters. If the most successful people on earth succumbed to depression, what hope is there left for the rest of us? Kate and Anthony had reached the epitome of success in their respective fields. Turning passion into a solid career is a remarkable feat that very few of us will ever be able achieve. These two had earned the respect of millions all over the globe, not to mention the handsome incomes generated through their career success. They had it all. Or did they? Obviously, they did not think life was worth living. Kate left behind a young daughter, and Anthony also left the people who loved him, and the audience who deeply respected him. Fame and success was detached from their inner struggles. But all anyone saw was a facade. Beneath that exterior was a deeply troubled soul screaming and crying for help until that soul is silenced forever.
Sometimes, when I scroll through my social media and look at the pictures of beautiful lives in my network, I feel very happy for them but at the same time, I also have an empty feeling that my life does not look as spectacular as the picture-perfect families and careers that belong to my network. My friends have also been deeply affected by the power of distortion unleashed by social media. It also took me a while to understand all we see on Facebook or Instagram is a filtered version of life events. Photoshopped to the maximum. Stories cherry-picked to create the illusion of a picture-perfect life. We aspire to a non-existent ideal, particularly in a Western society obsessed with self-improvement.
Perhaps, my mother, who grew up in a different era in a different part of the world, was right when she reprimanded the way we have let social media control our thoughts and emotions. There is no such thing as a perfect life, for all the hoopla in our social media. We really do not know what goes on behind the scenes. More likely than not, the most damaged person is the one who posts the most pictures of her exotic vacations.
Kate and Anthony were not that different from their legions of fans. Just like social media tends to distort the truth, our media (news networks, magazines and newspapers) glorify the lives of the rich and famous, the superficial things associated with upper echelons of society like fame, power and money. What is missing is that they are as human as can be. In 2014, we mourned the loss of Robin Williams – the one and only Mrs. Doubtfire. In 2018, we are trying to make sense of the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in the week of June 4th. The question is not why. We know exactly why – we all have unspoken struggles and the world does not understand us.
Depression is a serious mental health issue, especially in an online age. Smartphones have come to replace what used to require interactions with other human beings. It is a lonely existence for many of us increasingly cut off from family and community. What these tragedies taught us this week is that we need each other to lean on during both good and bad times. Friends don’t just show up during good times. It’s about being sensitive toward each other. Showing compassion and understanding toward our fellow friends, family and even strangers can save somebody from taking the plunge into darkness. Life does not end when your dreams come true. Life goes on and on because when your dreams come true, you have a duty to help others reach their dreams. It is what makes life truly meaningful.