Our friend Stanimira McKnight, MD, MS, RPSGT, CCSH, came to see us this morning and joined us for breakfast. We haven’t had any sleep disorders — that’s her specialty with all those initials — but for us the Doctor made a house call! She founded and runs a sleep clinic in New York. We felt it was a bit of a miracle that she could arrange to see us on this trip, since she had a busy schedule lined up for an all-too-short visit to Colorado. Mira, as she is called, carries miracles with her.
We met Mira online, so to speak. She is a travel expert, and so is our son Joel. We connected through his website, Just Get Out of Town (JGOOT). Both she and Joel are accomplished world travelers, and Stormy and I have an interest in travel as well. Those two, though… wow! Along with a few others at the higher levels of the JGOOT biosphere, their dedication to the art of traveling, and especially to traveling well, is stunning.
We didn’t talk much about travel on this visit, though. Mira has such a fascinating story, we wanted to learn as much about her as we could. She already knew our story, after all. She is from Bulgaria, and when Joel learned that fact he mentioned that his parents had lived and worked there for a time. Then she found out about A Breeze in Bulgaria, and even before finishing the book her generous nature took over. She sent us Bulgarian specialty foods — even rakiya! — and we shared an online “happy hour” with others on Joel’s website talking about travel and Bulgarian traditions. It was an instant friendship.
I wasn’t sure Mira had known about the Peace Corps, so I wondered how the story would sit with her. She did indeed have some clear memories on the subject. She wrote me, “I remember the first Americans that came with the Peace Corps. It was like they came from a fairy tale. We were such a closed country we had just heard tales about US. Had no idea what people were like. We were taught to hate them. I never really understood how politics manipulated us (both sides) until I took my husband to Moscow and saw his terrified face right in the middle of Red Square. He told me he had been taught that we were the enemy.”
My dad had expressed some of those same misgivings, you might recall from the book, when we decided to go to Bulgaria.
I knew that Mira came to the U.S. 23 years ago, so she left there a few years before we went in 2002. When she first learned about our having worked there, she asked if there were still long lines for bread and other essentials. She had such grim and dreary memories from those hard times. When we were there we saw the people were frugal of course, and lived very well on little: not so grim and terrible. Our experience was so good, and so fulfilling, and the people so friendly, that it was as if we had been on different planets with just those few years separating us.
I had heard about those times before our arrival, when things were so hard.
As I was crossing the big square… something caught my eye in a crack in the pavement. It was an old one-stotinka coin, black with age. One stotinka was a hundredth of a lev, and a lev was about half a dollar, so about half a penny. But that was a current coin. In 1997 the lev was in ruins after a period of wild inflation, reforms were put in place to stabilize the currency, and the old coins became worthless. The devaluation was a thousand to one. This coin was from 1990, so if I had two of them they would have added up to a thousandth of a penny. How many of those would it take to buy a grain of rice? — Breeze, p. 51
Who could live like that? Hyperinflation. Food shortages. Desperation. So hard. Everything failing, falling apart. In the early 90s Mira was in in medical school at Trakia University. She describes it as a terrible time, right after the student strikes that eventually led to the fall of the dictator Todor Zhivkov and the Soviet system.
Naturally I assumed that was why Mira left Bulgaria for America. When I asked if that economic hardship and strife was why she chose to leave, I was surprised that she said she didn’t choose it. “You didn’t choose to come? But… “
There’s a story here, and maybe it ties to miracles. “My mother made me.”
Turns out, it wasn’t just her mother, but also her handwriting. Mira explained, you know how doctors always have such terrible handwriting? “Well, I had beautiful handwriting. When people heard that the United States had the Diversity Immigrant Visa program — you know, the green card lottery — a friend of mine wanted to apply. Since his writing was so bad, and you know, no computers, forms by hand, he asked me to fill out the forms for him.” She didn’t know any English, but she figured out the forms and did it. Then another friend, and another, more and more. It’s hard to say how many, but her friends were flocking to the green card lottery. Not Mira, though. She was taking care of family obligations, and didn’t want to leave her mother to handle it alone. “My mother pushed me to fill out the form for myself. I just couldn’t.”
Then the next year, more of the same. Dozens of applications, and Mother insisting for Mira to “Go… go… fill out the form. Have a life away from here.” Eventually, she yielded. Of all those forms she had carefully filled out, two were chosen in the lottery. One was hers. What are the odds? Mother made a miracle happen.
Mother died some time ago, and Mira still feels her presence, guiding her and making things work out right. Mother makes miracles. A week ago Mira wrote about the success she has achieved in building her clinic. “The lab was just an empty space in 2011, we had it built from the ground up and it was a struggle, still is, but I couldn’t be prouder of the people who did it and are still doing it.” She says it is rewarding, she works with good people and she feels close to her patients. They recommend the lab to their friends and are so grateful when they feel better. “Running a sleep center with 3 doctors and 6 beds is not an easy task but at least I am free to do whatever whenever.”
Mira continues, “I can’t believe it has been 10 years. I did that and it still amazes me that this country is so great. The American dream is truly wondrous. If a 30 years old emigrant from a former socialist country can come here with no money whatsoever, without speaking English or knowing a single soul AND be able to build a business out of nothing, then yes — the American dream is alive and wondrous!!!”
Mira has parlayed hard work and smart choices together with every now and then a little miracle, into success upon success in her work. And travel? This year Rio, Sao Paolo, Alaska, St. Croix, Paris, Sofia. And now even Denver! Next year around the world! Adventurous, exotic, and less costly than you could ever imagine. She proudly told me, “That’s the JGOOT Way!”
One of the quotes Mira shared recently with friends was, “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.” Yes, true. And she reminded me to mention that it helps to have a mother who watches out for you and makes things work out just right with those silent little Miracles.