George H.W. Bush & Anthony Bourdain: Lessons Learned

By Sharon Scott Wilson

The recent passing of Anthony Bourdain and George H.W. Bush affected me deeply. I am still not over Bourdain who hosted the hit television commentary series on CNN, “Parts Unknown” and committed suicide in June. After news of President Bush’s passing, I found myself weeping almost every day. I wept not only for Bush, but for Bourdain, as well…and, most likely for my own mortality.

It seemed to me that each of these men had such exceptional qualities; they each had a quiet dignity. I am holding onto a sense of regret that I had not better appreciated them while they lived.

Yes, I’m sure that Bourdain had his moments when he terrorized his staff and tortured his loved ones. I remember hearing him refer to himself as an a**hole. One of his crew said of him, “Sure, he was a d*ck; but, he was our d*ck.”

Although I did not vote for him, President Bush appealed to me as being a dignified, idealistic gentleman. He may have appeared to have been almost too milk-toast to survive in the rough waters of American politics…or, any communal gathering for that matter. (Take any homeowner association as an example of political rancor and discordance, for example.) Of course, I have lately come to learn that self- restraint takes more strength of character than hot-headedness, vitriol, and sharp-shooting remarks.

One of the lessons I wish to learn from them both is how to truly connect with people. Take Bourdain, for instance. He touched people. He had genuine respect for and interest in those who, like himself, overcame great odds. Bush was famous for writing personal notes and letters to perhaps thousands of individuals.

We read in littlebaomay’s comments to Bourdain on Instagram: “Happy to be touched by you in what you stand for and what you pursue. To know that you were going to shoot our restaurant, felt like winning a lottery or a dream manifested. To meet you and to instantly know you are exactly how I thought you would be. A hero exploring the truth through food and travel. You beat the harsh hours of being a chef. You beat the heroine. You beat the cocaine. You made a life of yourself inspiring millions, living a dream life with truth that not many know how to live….” She writes further about the curse of depression, which was Bourdain’s final blow; his invincible challenge. At last she writes, “Love him and celebrate him. Remember him for his work but also spend time to read and learn more about depression because we can still share awareness in protecting those around us. Thank you @anthonybourdain.”

We get a more direct life lesson from President Bush: “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course.” (Courtesy of #WebNerds on Instagram.) The Washington Post wrote, “In 1988, Mr. Bush gave a list of the qualities he most cherished to Peggy Noonan, who wrote his speech accepting that year’s Republican presidential nomination. They were: ‘family, kids, grandkids, love, decency, honor, pride, tolerance, hope, kindness, loyalty, freedom, caring, heart, faith, service to country, fair (fair play), strength, healing, excellence.’”

Two very different men and, yet, vivid reminders that each of us will leave a legacy. For what will you be remembered, do you think? I hope to be remembered for having Bourdain’s insatiable curiosity and creativity, joined with a love for people. Plus, I would love to be known today, even while still alive, for any and all of the qualities listed Bush listed for Peggy Noonan but chiefly for tolerance, hope, kindness, and loyalty.

For whatever qualities we wish to be remembered, we need to exercise them every day. As the Bible says in Proverbs 23, verse 7, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”

Photo Credit: (c) 2013 Sharon Scott Wilson; Autumn, from "The Door Series."


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