About my father...
My father, my favorite Bulgarian, passed away some years ago, on his feet. In this way he gave his sons a last – and perhaps most important – example, but this is not what I want to talk about. My old man, Mitko Enev, died while he tried to reach the top of the staircase where an ambulance was waiting for him; an ambulance promising rescue, or at least hope against the snare of the heart attack which, as you probably guessed, had already entangled him inescapably. He didn’t manage it, yet before that he didn’t allow the health-paramedics to lay his not-quite-light body on the stretcher. I hope you’ll forgive those prideful words, but to me this is a magnificent act of free will, a purely Bulgarian form of obstinacy, which will a thousand times prefer giving Death the finger, rather than humiliating oneself and bowing one’s head to the inevitable. And probably it is things like this which allow me to live in Germany without feeling embarrassed each time I have to explain that I am Bulgarian. “Be whatever you like, only do it till the very end” – this is what flares faintly in front of my eyes, when I think about the death of my father. This, and the hope that my children, although they don’t speak Bulgarian, still do carry in themselves something of the obstinacy of their grandfather. And of his great soul, which constantly insisted on not taking life’s problems too seriously. His whole life.
On the other hand, almost at the same time, my family was rather preoccupied with another – this time expected – death. The grandfather of my then-wife – a dry and bony German from the Baltic region of Germany – was lying in his deathbed, surrounded by caring relatives, people full of love and respect. May his bed be comfortable, the good man Ervin deserved every bit of it. He had passed through all the circles of the war inferno – on the eastern front, by the way – then through that other inferno, German communism; he had raised four children, and up until only a few months ago he still used to dry out a bottle of Schnapps weekly, together with a few beers. I only tell this to make it clear that I do respect this man, all joking aside. People like him, tenacious and tough as nails, had made it possible for Germans to become a kind of myth for us Bulgarians.
I repeat it – I respect and love Grandpa Ervin dearly. I say this and hurry to add that something inside me refuses to accept unreservedly the way he died. I am asking myself if the reason for all this is not the natural haughtiness which cannot be separated from still being young, although it would be slightly exaggerated to call myself “young” at this point. Of course, I cannot say for sure, but to me this kind of death seems somehow too reasonable and impassive, too German, to put it bluntly. Long occupation with philosophical texts has taught me to understand that accepting death may be one of the main achievements of civilized life, but my atavistic Bulgarian instincts refuse to accept this foreign wisdom and make me shiver whenever I try to imagine the reality of this slow farewell. To lie down on the special mattress, paid for by expensive insurance, to feel how the last sparks of life leave you, together with the warm trickle between your legs, how fear slowly but surely transforms you from a human being into an animal… Brrrr, God save me from the wisdom of such acceptance! “The horror… the horror”, whisper the white-pressed lips of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now – and this is all I see in front of my eyes when I think about Death in its civilized variant.