Nine years ago, as I was preparing to move to New York City, I sent an email to Zero Point Zero Productions, the production company that produced a show called No Reservations. I knew I would have some free time on my hands, and I knew I wanted to volunteer to work for them, just for the experience. I wanted to make great travel television. And I wanted to learn from the Zero Point Zero staff in exchange for giving them my time. I wanted to learn from the master. I wanted to see how the sausage was made, and if I liked it, I knew the connections I forged would be far more valuable than any amount of money I might have earned. I fully expected to never travel anywhere with the crew, but to happily work behind the scenes.
So I carefully crafted and sent this email. On virtual paper, I was funnier, more clever, more alive, more hopeful and confident than in reality. I’d hoped it would make me stand out.
I never heard back.
In truth, it was probably for the best. That summer in New York, I was in relationship purgatory, which rapidly descended into relationship hell. I was terribly depressed, and without health insurance, I couldn’t consult with someone about it, even if I’d been motivated to do so. It had been my dream my entire life to live in New York City, and I was making it happen, subletting a postage-stamp sized room in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, with a Pepto-Bismol colored bathroom and almost nothing of my own, for something like $1000 a month. But I couldn’t drag myself out of bed. I spent three months in my bedroom, on a creaky, uncomfortable Ikea spring mattress, crying, scrolling through Facebook, and mourning the deep, and terrible loss of my marriage. I felt like an utter failure. I was not my best self. Something I’d wanted for as long as I’d been alive was just beyond my door and I didn’t have the mental strength to put on shoes and step outside.
Tony Bourdain has been a hero of mine for as long as I can remember. Although he never knew I existed, he was a constant source of inspiration and influence for me. His body of work was a weekly, if not daily, part of my life. His books. His programs. Even his sponsored series, “Raw Craft.” I gobbled up his work in all of its myriad forms and strove to emulate it. I’d regularly text friends: Did you see this? Did you read this? Did you watch this? This is what television can be, in its highest form. This is how travel transforms. This. This. This. I want to be, and do, this. To change the world by telling great stories. Shining a light on the marginalized. Elevating the untold. Helping people see that there is hope. There is wonder. There is brilliance all around us. And we are all more alike than we are different.
It had never occurred to me that both Anthony Bourdain and I had dwelled in the dark, lonely corners of mental despair.
That is one of the aspects of mental anguish that’s so sinister. You’re in that dank tunnel, with the ghosts of all of your perceived failures, buckling under the weight of your perceived worthlessness, and you think you’re alone. But you’re not. There is an entire planet of people who are suffering alongside you, each feeling like they’re all alone. And often their Facebook page doesn’t betray their suffering. Statistically, one in four people you know suffers from mental health issues. One in four. Do you know who they are?
What seems like a lifetime ago, a mentor and dear friend of mine took his life. He’d told me once that he wished I were his daughter. Just imagine having that kind of love, that safety net of unconditional love, waiting to catch you if you fell!
I grew up economically disadvantaged, thankfully surrounded by all the love and support I needed to overcome it. I wanted to become a first generation college student, and wanted to be a journalist, but in our family, none of us knew how to navigate the system, and we couldn’t afford the basic things necessary to do so.
He encouraged my love of writing. He gave me an electric typewriter. He bought my prom dress, for goodness sake, from an actual formal shop. He took me out for my first taste of lobster. He counseled me when I was having boy troubles. He drove me to college campuses to tour them. He stood up for me when a coach cut me from the varsity cross country running team just before state. He wrote a poem for me, telling me the world was a better place because I was in it: “But I know a girl who can put a smile/on faces where once was a tear/And I know the world is a much better place/just because Charish is here.” Can you imagine?
He encouraged me to dream. He gave me the tools for success–the stepping stones I needed, that I didn’t even know to ask for.
At the same time, he often reflected with shame upon his job as a forklift driver. He wanted me to be more than that. He had no obligation to help me, he didn’t owe me a thing, and we weren’t even relatives; he was simply the parent of a runner on the same team, and a member of our church. Without him, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
And yet, he’s not here. I can never thank him from this healthy, happy, hopeful, self-actualized zip code I’m in today.
Some people, like Anthony Bourdain, influence your life and your personal growth without ever knowing all the good they’ve done. And some people, like Marv Johnson, change the course of your life’s journey, just by being who they are.
But it’s essential to remember, in the midst of our own struggles, that our mentors and heroes are often struggling, too. We are never alone in the darkness.
Here I am today, without either of these great men who’ve had such a profound influence on my life.
One a forklift driver, who felt his life had no value.
One, an internationally respected travel journalist, who felt his life had no value.
If I’d been in the room as either stood on the precipice of their pain, maybe I could have said something. Who among us wouldn’t? Something as simple as thank you. Something as necessary as, “I’m a better person for having known you,” or “I know the world is a much better place just because you’re here.” Something as hopeful as, “Trust me, tomorrow will be better.”
In the end, it was my sister who pulled me out of it, out of that horrid place. I give her all of the credit in the world for that. During one of our long telephone conversations, likely near the end of her seemingly bottomless well of compassion and patience, she verbally shook me by the shoulders.
“You’ve wanted to live in New York your whole life, and you’re wasting it.” Her words hit the target.
So in the midst of my personal fog, I promised to watch for the sun.
I forced myself to do one new thing every day. Something I’d never done in New York. I started small, getting coffee or walking down a street I’d never seen. Taking photos of things that represented joy, so that I could bring the joy of life into better focus for myself. Snapshots from an old cell phone, photos which I still have today.
Pink balloons tied to a Brownstone railing.
Coffee roasting at my favorite coffee shop.
Goldfish in Chinatown.
A slice of thin-crust pizza.
The meditative crush of people, the ebb and flow of the crowd moving like a lava flow at Times Square.
The Brooklyn Bridge, by day, by night.
Magnolia trees blooming in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
I found wandering to be healing, and I haven’t stopped since. I do it for my own wellbeing. I do it for the man who believed I could go anywhere. And now I do it for the man who never knew me, who showed me how to wander right.
If today is dark for you, please know that tomorrow will be better. I promise.
Watch for the sun, my friends.
Watch for it.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.