My second day in Bulgaria I'm greeted by bai Stoyan who every evening sits on the same bench, observing and transposing the world onto his own memories. I'm told he used to live in the former Soviet Union. I wish I was the pages his story is written on. I know I could sit by him one of these summer nights and become a page. And maybe I will! Across him is the playground where children of all ages learn independence as some are left unsupervised for more than a handful of fleeting glances. A few parents smoke close by. Everyone smokes in Bulgaria. When I ask two of the children to sit on the bench, they readily agree! They are best friends and always walk around holding hands. In Bulgaria, unlike the US, the old live off their days in their own homes, surrounded by smells, tastes, chatter, china, habits and faces which all amount to a sense of peace. I can't begin to imagine the shock of uprooting the old, to exile it, to await the uncertainty of death in a nursing home surrounded by the unfamiliar.

The next day, I'm again reminded how beautiful it is to continue to make time for and integrate the elderly until their last breath becomes our first. My step-daughter, 11, and a girl, much younger, walked into church with us. We lit several candles for the living and placed them on a tray where more candles burnt, some elevated higher than others. The candles placed higher dripped onto the lower ones extinguishing and exciting the flames. A grandma, in her 80s, reached up her bony hands to move down the candles from the top. She turned to the children with a voice filled with honest sweetness, “Oh, babinoto, people think God will hear them better if they place the candles higher. But God, my dears, is also close to the ground and you can reach him too. No need to go looking for him high above.”

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