By Gail Fischer
Anthony Bourdain’s sudden and tragic passing brought grief to every corner of the world. His comfortable acceptance of others and their cultures modeled that we can be generous and genuine – because no matter where he went, he was consistently Anthony Bourdain.
When news of his death broke I had just had my own experience of parts unknown. A beloved colleague invited me to her home in Cheektowaga to meet three generations of her family and later join them for iftar, the meal that breaks the daily Ramadan fast.
It was a pleasure to greet her bright and beautiful children and get to know their grandmother, who had recently arrived from Bangladesh. We toured the house, her immaculate kitchen, and the backyard flower and vegetable garden.
My friend’s husband was a superb host who offered me fresh pineapple, juice and salad when he himself was fasting for Ramadan.
During the month that’s holy to Muslims – a time for personal reflection and self-improvement – adults eat and drink nothing from dawn to evening. Then they gather in their mosques for prayer and to partake in a communal meal followed by prayers.
Everyone in the mosque's spacious room for women and children smiled and greeted me warmly, showing the utmost kindness and respect. I learned that the moments before breaking the fast are a time of special grace when one’s deepest petitions are heard and granted.
The women served me a vegetarian cuisine with delicious eggplant, rice and raw cabbage. We wished one another “peace” before leaving for home.
In virtually all religions the table is a kind of sacred space. And in that space the highest virtue we can practice is hospitality to a stranger.
We who mourn Bourdain can turn our grief into a caring action. Call it “Dine With An Other,” where anyone can invite a co-worker or neighbor, a shopkeeper or fellow shopper of a different faith, race, nationality, sexual preference, age and even language over for a bite to eat. Our synagogues and churches – our book and garden and Rotary Clubs – could be sponsors in communities throughout Western New York.
Consider “Dine With An Other” the ultimate learning experience. “Break Bread To Lose Your Pred(judice)” is another way of looking at it. Dining with people who are different doesn’t require that you stop being you. The only threat to your integrity is spending life shuttered from a new experience. Like Anthony Bourdain, we won’t only taste the good food that fills our stomachs – we will expand our hearts and minds.
Culture sharing is the equal and fair trade of those who enjoy and walk the planet earth. We simply cannot leave this world less beautiful than when Bourdain left it.
Gail Fischer is an Experience Corps literacy volunteer at Waterfront Elementary, School 95, for Read to Succeed Buffalo.
Story topics: Anthony Bourdain