What Going to the Opera Can Teach You About Life

This is a story about going to the opera in Bulgaria. “Huh,” you might say, “what is there so special about the opera in Bulgaria?” Well, as it turns out, it has the potential to teach you a powerful life lesson, which despite history’s frequent reminders, we tend to forget.
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During the winter holidays I visited my family in Varna, now the second largest city in Bulgaria. My mother and I had discussed doing some cultural activities together, so we looked at what performances were taking place in the state opera. We decided on a Christmas classical concert on December 29. When we visited the box office, about a week before the performance, there was a note on the door announcing that tickets will be sold only on the day of the concert. Alright, we said, we will come back.

On the morning of December 29th, I took my place in the line of people waiting to buy concert tickets. A computer screen in front of me displayed that most seats were already booked. By the time my turn came, there were only about eight or ten seats still available. I purchased four tickets on the right side of the second balcony, thinking to myself that it wouldn’t be a big deal if we didn’t see well. After all, we were there to listen to the music, weren’t we?

At 4pm, three hours before the start of the concert, my mother began a long brainstorming session revolving around what we were all going to wear. After her professional guidance, ironing and last-minute adjustments, we left the apartment dressed in some of our best clothes. We were eager to immerse ourselves in a joyous music performance.

We entered the opera focused on finding our seats. The air around us was filled with the same sweet excitement we felt. Well-dressed families were handing their tickets to the opera staff and spreading the heavy scent of their perfumes around the entire building. With anticipation, we climbed up the stairs to reach the second balcony. We headed towards to farthest corner on the right only to see that one of our seats was completely unusable.

My grandmother was supposed to watch the concert sitting in a broken seat. In fact, a chair, turned upside down, was placed on top of the seat: a sure sign that the seat wasn’t meant to be used by the public. My grandmother looked at the mess in dismay. “Go and figure it out with the staff,” my mother, already disappointed with this whole situation, instructed us.

My brother went looking for help. I saw him pointing the seat to a blond middle-aged lady from the staff who was just looking in our direction and scratching her head. A few minutes later, some guy, who I am convinced was the cameraman on the first floor, showed up. Without speaking to anyone, he removed the chair from the seat, tried to remove the layers of dust from it with a quick hand movement and left us. We looked at the seat again: no one above the age of seven could fit their legs in the little space left in front of the broken seat. While we were waiting for someone else to come up with a better solution to this mini crises, the concert had already begun. My brother was left standing in front of the closed balcony doors. In fact, he was surrounded by many other people who, for some reason, also weren’t seated.

Throughout the entire first part of the concert my mind was preoccupied with thoughts around this absurd situation. I was angry and bitter. During the break I rushed downstairs and yelled at the box office lady who not only refused to reimburse me for my ticket, but also had the audacity to tell me that someone should have seated us upstairs. I left the opera utterly disappointed and later that night, complained to my high school friends about my experience. I shared the story agitated and out of breath. “Welcome home,” my friends said with a smirk. They told me I shouldn’t get all flustered because this happened all the time. “I know it happens all the time,” I responded. “But we should do something about it.”

My experience at the opera pointed to a larger trend in Bulgaria: people’s reluctance to fight for their rights. Living in constant chaos teaches you to close your eyes in front of misconduct and even crime. You get used to taking abnormal, even absurd, behavior for normal. You start anticipating problems and discomfort to accompany you in your life journeys. Such living cannot be healthy.

This is a story about going to the opera in Bulgaria. But it is also a story about the importance of not getting accustomed to the absurdities in our social reality.

This was my third Toastmasters speech.

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