August 16, 2016.
I must admit, Velcho Petrov is one of the most reflective, insightful and charming individuals I have encountered in my lifetime. Having spent his childhood in Bulgaria, Velcho became rather nostalgic as he shared his stories with me. When speaking about his grandmother’s best friend, a gentle, older woman who lived on a dairy farm and would give him a big hug and a quart of fresh milk each day, it was as though he could smell the cows and potent manure.
Moving to Canada from Bulgaria as a young man to pursue higher education, Velcho experienced his fair share of hardships. Finding peace working with animals, he successfully pursued his veterinarian license, but was struck with mental illness due to severe stress and working long hours.
“In my life, I only have two ways. Either a second suicide attempt or to pluck up my courage and deal with everything because there is plenty. First, homelessness. Second, poverty. Third, truly disabling things like bipolar disorder, diabetes, insulin dependency plus previous pancreatitis bouts. Separation from the family… I was sort of kicked out by my second ex-wife. I lost my ability to practice my profession in veterinary medicine, so unemployment and also bankruptcy.”
Like many people who have experienced homelessness, mental illness and poverty, Velcho has demonstrated superhero-like resiliency. As he navigated his paranoia and the barriers that were continually building, Velcho found peace in reading the bible. So eloquently, he described the impact religious text can have on someone, especially if they embody the teachings:
“Sherlock Holmes says, ‘it’s one thing to see, it’s another to observe’. So when you read the bible, page after page, not everybody lives by the bible and that’s the most important difference for people to grasp.”
The conversation about faith and practice lingered as he shared his enlightened perspective on religious diversity in Canada. Velcho believes that despite having been born into the Greek Orthodox church, that “God is one, but has different faces”. We agreed that once people realize this – that humans are free and capable to live out the faith in which they are most deeply connected to, whether they pray to Allah, Brahma, or the Lord – that we may be able to live in harmony because as Velcho said, “we humans, we people, we stopped loving each other.”
Nearing the end of our conversation, I asked Velcho what his hopes for the future are. In true form and with his Canadianized Bulgarian accent, he shared another beautiful piece of wisdom: “I think the future is not for us to decide. I think future comes to us, it’s not that we go to future. When it comes to us, we just have to embrace it. The only thing we can change is to be more prepared in a positive way when the future comes to us.” I know that the community members at HOPE House, and the staff, are incredibly grateful for his regular appearance. When I injured my ankle, he checked up on me each day to make sure I wasn’t pushing it too hard. When we need a hand unloading donations or setting up for Wednesday community breakfast, he’s there and ready to lend a hand. I know, that by continuing to enrich the lives of those around him, that Velcho is also preparing himself for what the future may hold, because I believe in a little something called karma.