Our Family Culture
(a chapter from my book “Loving China, Loving Bulgaria”)
The circle was now closed. I had returned to the place where I had spent the happiest days of childhood, and we came to live in the dearest home of my once-upon-a-time dreams. “Forever,” we said to ourselves (though “nothing lasts forever, but eternity”).
The two small rooms and a kitchen, which now accommodate us, would seem too small a space for a big family of five. But warmth is stronger in being close, caused as much by friction as well as by lack of selfish (a.k.a. personal) space. Sometimes it is almost impossible to write and translate, being at the beck and call of three, and now four, persons; but that is an obstacle only if regarded one-sidedly. I would now not live in a house so large that everyone is separated from the other by “personal walls.” And luckily, my wife and I see eye to eye on that score.
Bulgarian and Chinese family culture and traditions are also close, in many respects. As in all ancient cultures, family is the beginning of the state. A family also perfectly reveals the spiritual state of its members. That is why I believe family culture is one of the most important foundation stones not only of society but also of states and, universally, human-kind. A family is a temple where one sacrifices one’s selfishness in the name of the other. No talk of humaneness, respect for “otherness,” is possible if one’s bosom is cold for one’s family. If you do not love your family, your townsfolk, your people, you definitely cannot love mankind!
Family is the primary school of self-control, self-awareness, kindness, forgiveness, generosity and so on. If a man is able to betray his family, he also betrays his country. One wonderful quality about our own family culture is that we do not have “private space,” in the sense of “this space is mine and dare you trespass!” Only one area is untrespassable in a family: that of intimacy and chastity. The entire rest is a sacredly shared territory. We teach our children that in the family: “mine” and “my” are the worst kind of words.
Once in a while I indulge in the wish to purchase for myself something out of sheer whim: something which could not eventually bring benefit to our family. And every time this happens, I feel like I have violated the holiness of our family oneness. Indulging in one’s wishes in a family is very wrong. It immediately puts you out of the family: on your own. This, above all, is a punishment in itself. It takes away the light and freedom you have, when you are not “on your own.” It also ruins the basic idea of a family as an inviolable wholeness. On the other hand, one of the things that make me extremely happy is when I earn something, put it in the family treasury, and feel free of even the slightest wish to possess it. Family possession frees me of a base instinct, that of self-centred greed. All I do and earn and wish for is, ultimately, dedicated our family. My wife is also this kind of person: abnegating her own comforts, pleasures and wishes in the name of the family. On this we have a tacit understanding and our bond is, I believe, strong precisely through the neglect of self and further strengthened through whole-hearted aspiration toward what is good for the others in the family.
The reason why I write about family culture in this chapter, is my unshakeable conviction that the crisis in modern society is deeply rooted in the “crisis of the family,” which is, in its turn, deeply rooted in what we often describe as “modern culture” and “modern world” and which, in simpler terms, is merely the kingdom of egotism and self-proclaimed gods. However, self-proclaimed gods see no further than their noses and the “wisdom” of “I don’t care if the world perishes after I die” is what practically defines consumerism on all levels. The loss of family warmth comes after egotism has settled deeply in the human heart and society. The symptoms of this coldness are not just a warning, they are a proof of the threat—that this civilisation is doomed and dying. Or, if I may paraphrase an ancient Roman exclamation: the family—to the lions! There is a hostility against normal families (a.k.a. “the traditional family”) which is founded on a thoroughly false conception of freedom: selfishness, self-indulgence, self-worship (often passing at one time as “self-identification” and at another, as “sexual rights”) and many more deified ideas which, paradoxically, reduce and destroy the happiness which a real family gives—the happiness of forgetting oneself in serving the others. Staring into one’s own ego blinds us to see the simple truths, the simple joys, the simple rules of healthy living.
In Chinese culture, as well as in older Bulgarian culture, the family occupies a devoutly high position. There is an entire series of Chinese books I wish to translate into Bulgarian: the wisdom of family life and education. They could make a wonderful series to bring us back the simple but brilliant wisdom of tenderly caring for what is dearest in our transient lives—the discovery of how great and important this little cell of society is for all society and for the very existence of the world.
After we settled back in Sevlievo, my primary concern was to furnish a study where I could go on doing my translation and other literary work. With my Dad’s help a third of the former sitting-room soon became a library and part of the room—the Western half thereof—a study; the other half of the room was our “bridal chamber,” which made the library as intimate and snugly special as the “sacred hearth” of home.
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