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A Transformative Moment In Sweden
By Diana Carr

When my son, Ryan, went to Sweden in 1998 as an exchange student for his senior year in high school, he fell in love with the country. So much so, that he moved back there a few months after returning home with the other AFS students.  He got permanent residence, then his citizenship, and now calls Sweden home sweet home.

I’ve gone there nine times, and I understand why my son wants to live there.  Old World charm, cobbled streets, thousand-year-old marvels of architecture, outdoor cafes where people linger for hours, and ancient traditions like lighting bonfires on May 1 to keep the witches away.

But as charming as all this is, I have always found the people to be distant and unfriendly. They seem to pull into themselves, not talking to anyone they don’t know or making eye contact with them, or lending a helping hand if need be. So I had gotten into my head, an image of a people who were even colder than their climate. But that all changed one day in October of 2010, when I went to visit my son and his new baby.

I am not one for long journeys, and what gives me so many sleepless nights beforehand is the thought of the three-hour train ride I must take by myself, after my plane lands. It’s another world, another language, and I always feel lost.

So there I was on this cold October day, down by the tracks that are on the lower level of the airport, feeling like I had just dropped in from another planet. “Excuse me,” I said to the man next to me.  “Am I in the right place to catch the train going to Alvesta?” “Yes,” he replied. “I’m going to Alvesta, too.” Say no more.  Not only was I relieved that he spoke English so well, but I was delighted to find a travelling companion. And by the end of that day, I would dub him my guardian angel.

As luck would have it, this kind stranger was slated to sit next to me. He got me on the right train, on the right car, and in the right seat. I settled back, happy to finally be on the last leg of this arduous journey. Or so I thought. After the conductor announced something in Swedish, my newfound friend, Anders, told me that we had to get off the train because there was an accident on the tracks. We would have to take a bus to another town, where, hopefully, we could catch another train to Alvesta. My heart sank to my toes.

We got off the train, then trudged over to where three buses were standing. The crowd there was fearsome, as people elbowed and jostled each other in a frantic attempt to board a bus. The scene reminded me of what I imagined a Black Friday sale at Macy’s would look like. The first bus filled up, the second bus filled up, and as Anders and I made our way to the last bus, I wondered what would happen if we couldn’t squeeze on. Anders, all determination at this point, was one of the first to make his way onto the bus, while I was still floating aimlessly in that mad sea of humanity, panic-stricken. “I do not know what I’m doing,” I shouted to the crowd,” and I cannot lose that man.” And then, much to my surprise, the sea parted. People smiled and let me through, and then laughed and joked with me when we were seated. It was a delightful side of them that I had never seen before.

We got to the next train station, and Anders never left my side. He showed me where I could buy food. He let me use his cell phone to call my son, as many times as I needed to. He kept checking the monitor to find out when we could get the next train to Alvesta. And when he did find one, he ushered me onto it, sitting next to me so as to keep a watchful eye on me. When the conductor announced in Swedish that our car was going to be disconnected from the train and would be heading in the opposite direction, he led me to another car.

In the course of conversation, I learned that he worked at the same psychiatric hospital that my son works at (they’re both nurses), and he knew him. Ryan had been an intern in his ward. It was frosting on the cake.

When at long last we arrived at our destination, he shook hands with my son, and then he was gone. But I will never forget my guardian angel.

And I will never forget the kindness of the Swedes who made sure a stranger did not lose her angel. I have revamped my opinion of them. I found a goodness and a kindness in them that I might not have seen otherwise. And as grueling as that day was, I deemed it a great one. Because any experience that gets you connecting with people, and seeing humanity’s basic decency, and pushes you past your stereotypes, is a good one.

Not only did this experience enable me to see these people in a more kindly light, but it brought home the notion that we must not see life as black or white, this way or that. Life, and people, are many colors. We are multi-dimensional beings, and we do ourselves and others a disservice when we look at only one facet. Now when I am less than pleased with someone’s behavior, I look deeper. I break out of the confines of my one-dimensional view, knowing that there is more to the story. The recognition of that fact has made me more tolerant. Less hurt and offended, more forgiving. For if the Swedes can surprise me with their heretofore hidden layers of kindness, then so, too, can this person standing before me.

And though I’ve always fancied myself to be a kind person, now I am much more willing to go the extra mile, be it for a stranger or a friend, because of that day in Sweden when I saw the human spirit at its best. We are all connected, we’re all in this together, and helping each other is what it’s all about.

I will always cherish that transformative day in Sweden.

Diana Carr Bio:

I live in Durham, CT, and have two grown sons – one in Sweden and one in North Carolina – and a one-year-old grandson. I have been a freelance reporter for eight years, have a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling, and am certified as a life coach and a hypnotherapist. Writing is my true passion, however.

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COMMENT (1) | enlightenment, tolerance
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Comments

One Response to “A Transformative Moment In Sweden”

  1. Sandi Shelton
    April 16th, 2012 @ 6:08 pm

    This is such a beautiful story and a reminder to look beyond the typical stereotypes. What an awful day this could have ended up being! Anders sounds like someone who was sent to look after you. Beautifully written!

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