If I win – I win for all our people, if I lose — I lose only myself.
— Vassil Levski
The mystery that was constanty calling to me in my early childhood continued to do so while those first years rolled by. And when I began to read books and started making sense of what I saw on the television screen, I discovered that the mystery was also there — on the screen, and on the pages of those first comic-books, just as it had been in the lavish gifts of the wild nature, and the ancient stories told by those around me.
During my transition from childhood to adolescence, I found myself drawn toward the screen even more, through my favorite television shows, among which were the Highlander series, and La Piovra, or Octopus — an Italian TV series about the Mafia and a few brave souls who took a stand against it. Here, in a stark contrast with the serene world of nature, I found myself stirred in a new way; I was aroused, like I had been in my explorations and encounters with wildlife, only this time I felt less peace, and more emotion. It was as if the same unseen hand that had previously lavished the wonderful blessings of nature upon me, had now placed me in a new, more dynamic, and far more dangerous, environment — nudging me, stirring me into feeling what the heroes on the screen felt – anger, hatred for evil, defiance and a wild, self-sacrificial love for that which they defended.
It was in the Italian saga La Piovra, that I found my first hero. Corrado Cattani, the brave police inspector who relentlessly pursued and fought the Mafia, was among the first men that I admired for their heroism, nobility, and fighting spirit. New emotions, unknown to me at that time, stirred my young heart as I watched Cattani live. But never was that stirring stronger than in the moment I watched him die. The brave Cattani faced his death alone, his back against a wall; he left the world bravely staring evil in the face, in utter defiance of the masked cowards who had come to take his life. Sudden grief seized me; fear and anger gripped my young heart; I was shaken by tremors and convulsions from deep within. Confusion descended upon my mind and overcame me – how could the hero die? Why did evil prevailed in a world where everything and everyone I knew seemed to be on the side of good? Something shifted inside of me, something changed as I watched Catani breathe his last, leaning against that cold, cruel wall, his body riddled with the bullets of those who hated goodness and destroyed it. Silently, awkwardly, I suffered, hiding from my parents the uncomfortable emotions that raged within me. The sudden, unexpected death of Cattani, was my first true loss. In vain my mother, who had noticed my distress, tried to comfort me by explaining to me the ways of films and acting. To me, the story and the loss was as real as the hero whose life was depicted in it. Days, weeks, even months after watching the scene of his death, I drew picture after picture of Cattani`s last moment — with his head bowed sideways against the wall, his eyes closed on a face that did not change its grim, fierce countenance even in death. Beautiful. He was just beautiful.
I had truly lost a great friend on that day. A brave, bright soul had been extinguished by men who served an evil cause. I grieved, but shed no tears.
Cattani had died like a man — I knew that, though I knew little else besides; he had died like someone who hated evil more than he feared death. No, but he scorned death, looking at his murderers with fierce, blazing eyes, and an open face in which nobility, strength and passion merged in a splendid, divine way.
Do such things really happen, I wondered? Do people like that really live today?
* * *
Another very powerful story I immersed myself in as a boy, (besides that of Vassil Levski, of course — the idol of every Bulgarian boy) was the story of Zorro — the noble masked outlaw who defied evil, defended and protected the people from their oppressive rulers, and captured the heart of the beautiful girl.
I became acquainted with Zorro in the early 90`s, when the national television broadcast a show named The New Zorro, where the main character was played by Duncan Regehr — a man whose face, just like the face of Michele Placido who played Cattani, became a symbol of everything I wanted to see on my face one day.
I was stirred beyond words by Zorro`s powerful, yet gracious presence; I was mesmerised by his courage in the face of opposition, by his strength, speed and the graceful masculine gentleness with which he treated the women around him, especially the one he loved…
I was young, very young at the time and could have never been able to put all that to words – the strong pull from within, the call that aroused a deep part of me which I felt but could neither see nor explain. That strange urge swelled into a desire, as I watched those tales of heroism unfold on the screen before me; I longed to grow and do more — be more — and live, breathe, fight and die, in the name of love, and for some great cause. I did not know what it was I was wishing for, hoping for; I only knew that the life I wanted was very different that the life I saw around me. Looking at my surroundings and then into the other world behind the thick glass of the old television, a voiceless question was being birthed within me. A question that did not come out into the light until decades later:
Why is the life we live so different that the life we desire?
There, in the safe nest of my childhood, I was not aware of any search for meaning, or even the feelings of sadness, nostalgia, and inadequacy, that had already began their treacherous unseen work within me. But I was deeply impacted by the black-clad man who embodied the beautiful, noble, and gallant warrior-spirit I so longed to possess.
Without words or even thoughts, I wondered: could I be a man like Zorro one day?
Even though the greatest blows which would soon descend upon my heart were yet to come, I felt a barb in that question, and a faint trace of shame pierced me; I began to suspect, albeit vaguely, that its answer could be disappointing.
Do not ask that again, it seemed to say. Do not open Pandora’s box.
Yet, I persisted. My dreams lifted me higher than the world around me, and my imagination gave me wings.
Could I, like Zorro, face a group of villains and, draw my sword and use it, with graceful speed, uninhibited by fear, free from paralysing dread?
Could I, like him, gaze into a beautiful woman’s eyes, and talk to her gently, opening the door of my feelings, not with shame, but with a smile — a tender smile, but manly and even roguish.
Could I be like him — slender but strong, sure-footed, and utterly confident in himself — so much so, that he even dared step in to defend others.
As my hungry eyes took in all that played out before me, a sense of hope arose within me. This wild hope was something new, but felt very old; it was a feeling unreasonable and totally impossible to explain…
Perhaps I could indeed, be such a man one day.
And with all of my heart, I wished for that to be true. I longed for the day when life will offer me a chance to be like Zorro.
I did not know how the world would one day treat my heart; I was only a boy, and I believed.
* * *
‘If people bring so much courage to this world’ — Ernest Hemingway once wrote — ‘the world has to kill them to break them…’
There is much courage in the heart of every baby boy brought into this world. Much courage, and much strength. But it must be drawn out, nurtured, and trained — or it will remain weak and hidden; it will be stifled, darkened, and broken.
‘The world breaks every one’ — continues one of the most popular authors of all times — ‘and afterward many are strong in the broken places.’
We have all been born to be courageous; and we have all been broken.
May you have the courage to rouse the lion that sleeps within you. He is your goodness and your strength; he is your very masculine essence — this is who you once longed to be, and this is who you are still…