Friday, June 8, 2018

Anthony Bourdain made me a better pet sitter

This has been an especially tough week for a lot of people. The loss of two famous people due to suicide only highlights what goes on everyday in our midst: fellow humans grappling with the depth things that no one else can understand, no, not from their point of view. A couple of comments, including "...sometimes the sad just catches up" and "...suicide puts a fly in your head. It's always inside, buzzing around" caught my attention on social media. Maybe because they're simplistic, and that's what we crave when looking in from the outside—a way to get our head around something that confounds us. 

Though working in different fields, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain shared an untimely, hair-thin thread and with the latter's demise, things somehow felt more resonant. Bourdain was the second of the two to be reported to have passed away, and maybe that's why. I'll argue, though, that it might be because his craft, what he shared in-kind with the masses was something that we can't live without: food. And not a stark, preparatory, recipe-led offering on how to make a dish—no, we savored his culinary escapades throughout the world met with unknown-but-interesting humans who were just as much our [vicarious] guides to locales and cultures that we'd otherwise never be privy to. And we watched. And listened to those conversations between guide or friend and traveler—not tourist—some of which were as intimate and forthcoming as they should be at late-night, over a plate of something good, after a day of exploring and drinking and rubbing elbows with locals who are the tightest threads of a city's tapestry. And we let our minds wander to those places and attempted to try our hand at making the foods that might give us that opportunity to have a slice of that place on our plate, in many cases, places that many of us will never visit. I'll admit that the segment on the seemingly mundane cal├žot alone motivated my desire for some tether to something less-familiar. Because onions can do that. Yes, onions.

Bourdain's joie de vivre for people and food were front and center, it was never about him. He was just along for the ride, it seemed, asking the questions and doing the things that most of us would be too timid to.

This piece of art hangs on my front door

I'm grateful to say that Bourdain's body of work first piqued my interest eons ago because of my long-held love of eating and preparing food. His writing was unpretentious and far-reaching through experiences, those in common and not so much so. But his silent urging, 'go, experience, eat, be curious and most of all, listen to those you meet and please... enjoy your life," spurred my love of indulging wanderlust late in life, where, as I understand is where he began his travels. I began traveling a little over ten years ago—and solo a little over half of those trips around the sun. Because of Bourdain, I've gotten over my fear of traveling alone and have criss-crossed the continental United States even Puerto Rico as my budget and schedule have allowed. I've had experiences like quickly getting over my dislike of octopus when a grandmother (the chef) presented me with a dish of it after my over-confident-but-misguided use of Spanish ordered it; watching buskers after a day of setting my feet, my ears and my eyes loose in New Orleans; being given a nearly-private tour of longest-operating synagogue in the country; seeing things I'll never see again before they were destroyed by Hurricane Maria; being on a road trip through South Carolina, sitting roadside with a very old sweet grass basket weaver to hear her stories; downing a shot of hooch with a group of strangers after spending the day with them in the rain forest; coming together with other bumped passengers to offer our food to a young passenger from Europe who didn’t know that food vouchers are only good for vendors inside the security checkpoint. I could go on.

Traveling in it's way, does so much more, and really, you need not go far.

It's forced me to open my eyes to things that are ordinarily dimmed by everyday life. It's allowed me to recognize the importance of standing up for myself, and others. It's magnified how much we all truly rely on others and trust them to take care of us each and every day, because as a traveler, that's what makes for the best experience. Ditto for being a really good listener. Traveling makes for being a better storyteller, too.

Yes, this has been because of Bourdain, or what his example showed me was possible.

And it has also bolstered a philosophy that I carry with me each and every day in my journeys with families as a pet sitter and animal hospice worker, reinforcing the notion of there's much to be experienced in life, near and far, no matter how much time there is to work with, you can hop to it and I'm going to help you do it. 

I've been connected to folks with pets who have not wanted to miss a beat with their wanderlust after a move to the area, others wanted to pick up where they left off with it after being paired with the pet love of their lives, some who found themselves tethered to home and needing the solace of a night out immersing in local food and culture after their pet goes into hospice. There have been several in past years who've remarked, '...you helped save my marriage; we were on the verge of splitting because I wouldn't travel and you demonstrated it was possible to leave our pets and enjoy a life outside of them.'

That was possible due in part because I had a vicarious sampling of life that made me want to partake in experiences in different locales, and in turn I want the same for others if they so choose. Because this is what my business, at it's core, is really about: serving others in a way that enables them to live more fully. So, in that way, I owe someone I've never met and never will an ocean of debt for being an unlikely influence on a life and a livelihood that in many ways was so unlike his own.

Taking from an episode of his show, No Reservations, Bourdain said: 

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.

And he did leave something good behind. 

The only way I can think to truly pay homage to Anthony Bourdain—a human gone far too soon—and his legacy is to continue pursuing my adventures with food, my travels to places I've not been, and helping others who need help doing the same. That, and to just show up for someone who might be feeling as if they need to make a very final choice. 

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care support. She is also a Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion and a member of The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care and Pet Sitter International. She tweets at @psa2.

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