It has been a frightfully long time since I’ve written. A lot has happened, and from time to time I’ve thought I should jump back in and share my thoughts on Bulgaria, Ukraine, philosophy, friendship, love, life, death… but it’s been tomorrow, and tomorrow, and well, you know. When I wrote about the significance of Crimea back in February as an allegorical balance point in the Black Sea region I thought that was a prescient piece of analysis. It was right after the Sochi Olympics (Remember that far back? Everybody all harmonious together there in Russia, healthy international competition, lots of smiles… ) Then in the months that followed things shook loose so fast I was left in awe at the scope of it all. Speechless, you might say, or at least wordless. With the recent “elections” in the eastern part of Ukraine being so predictably incendiary and divisive there’s nothing I can add to the news there.
But as I said, it’s been a long time. A lot has happened. For one thing, Stormy and I packed up a couple of suitcases and moved. For the moment at least, we are North Carolinians. We came out from Colorado to join our son Jason and his family from Maine and we all set up in Durham, near Duke University Hospital. You might recall from the book (Breeze, p. 156) that I had to get breathing oxygen set up for his visit to Bulgaria (and had a pretty humbling language lesson in the process). His cystic fibrosis causes lung problems. That’s been going on for a long time.
In the years since we were in Bulgaria, his condition steadily continued to get worse, with ups and downs, each down lower than the previous one. He was listed for a lung transplant at Columbia Presbyterian in New York a few years ago. Late last year the docs said he would be needing it soon, but their transplant list was so long and slow-moving they recommended he get listed somewhere else besides there. (Here’s a plug. Sign up to be an organ donor. Donate life!) He shopped around and chose Duke. We’re in an apartment close to Jason’s, the grands are happily established in a good school, and we’re waiting. Jason has frequent clinic visits to keep tabs on his condition, and daily physical therapy sessions to improve the odds of a successful surgery and recovery when that comes.
[edit 10/6: added for clarification] For the last few months he’s been unusually healthy. We’re all glad of that, and we’re in no hurry. Fingers crossed.
People are here for the Duke program from all over, and the various patient-caregiver pairs or trios all have their own unique set of circumstances. All are in different stages, with different underlying conditions, and as they go through the process there have been wildly differing outcomes. It’s a science, not an art, but with so many variables that it’s no more predictable than the weather.
Here in Durham we find ourselves in an unplanned, ad-hoc community of sorts, centered around the lung transplant program. It seems that it would necessarily be a fleeting kind of association, here today and gone tomorrow. That was what we thought about Peace Corps too, at first — that we and all the others in our group were just nomads, passing through — and now some of our Peace Corps friends are the lifelong kind.
I was reminded of that aspect of friendship when I read a blog post the other day, by a young Finnish traveler who has taken a year to travel around to lots of places, and she wrote about her six days in Bulgaria. Her insights floored me, with such a short time in the country; she found the heart of the country and its people right away. Her article is here: BULGARIA! (text in English).
At first I thought the name of her blog, My Big Fat Gypsy Year, was a reference to Bulgaria, and I was shocked that she would use the word “Gypsy.” She’s using the word, surely though, in the nicest way possible. A year of traveling, wandering from place to place. (I wonder if someday we’ll think of “nomad” as an ethnic slur.) I recognized the allusion to the movie title about the Greek wedding, but still… well, anyway…
The depiction of Bulgaria is amazingly insightful, all the more so because the writer was there for such a short time. Just passing through. She writes of the history of oppression and suffering that has left deep scars on the people and shaped their resiliency and determination. She writes lovingly of Plovdiv, the beautiful city near where we lived, a historical and architectural gem built over and among ancient Roman ruins. Her words and photos capture the grim reality of a hard life in the poorest country of the EU, and the beauty of the countryside, mountains, waterfalls, wineries and picturesque old churches and monasteries. But most touchingly, to me, she writes of the generous and warm-hearted nature of the people she met in her short stay.
It’s been a long time, but I still recognize it. That’s Bulgaria.