The Hardest Season

I guess this as good of a title as any for an entry about spending six months in winter in Sweden.  But here goes.

I was sitting at home yesterday, flipping though HBO and I found that they have a movie about the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.  I started to remember when I visited the Stockholm stadium in 2007.  Oh and the circumstances surrounding it.

In 2007, I got a phone call to come for a job interview to Sweden.  The phone call came like a bolt out of the blue.  I thought — well, this is worth a shot.  The place I worked sent me a plane ticket and off I went.  I wasn’t sure about the place or the job.

Looking back on it now, it was a time in my life when I was looking for something.  I was on this constant search for something but I wasn’t exactly sure what.  My life was missing something but I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly what that was.  Where did I belong???  What was I supposed to do???  Where was I supposed to live???  These were all questions in my mind that seemed to have no answer.

After two more trips to Sweden, I got hired and set off to live there.  One of the people who had interviewed me said that I was going to have a hard time there because I was all alone.  It was a weird thing to say to a person that you had just agreed to hire.

The whole situation wasn’t great from the beginning.  I had never met the person I was supposed to work for and when I did, we did not get along.  I was supposed to be editing documents there but there was no real schedule or system to keep track of the documents.  It was utter, utter chaos and nobody was willing to even entertain any ideas of organizing it.  The worst part was that it was winter and it was pitch dark outside by 3pm, sometimes 2:30.  It was like it was plunged into night all the time.  A lot of things happened over the few months I was there.  I could go into a litany of wrongs that were done to me in this place, but I don’t really want to do that.

It was a very difficult experience, mostly due to the fact that I was completely alone.  Completely.  I knew the people I worked with but I wasn’t friends with any of them.  I was so focused on figuring out how to do the job I had that I couldn’t concentrate on finding people to actually hang out with.  Two friends came to visit me when I was there but otherwise, I was completely alone.  Six months in a foreign country alone.  

The thing was too was that I had this attitude at the time that I didn’t need anyone.  People told me I was so brave going there alone and I thought — of course I’m alone.  I don’t need other people around.  Besides, people who needed other people were weak by my estimation and I wanted to be anything but weak.  I still had this pretty fatalistic outlook that we’re born alone and we die alone. In way, the experience in Sweden kinda showed me that needing people didn’t make me weak.

Now I talk to my friends every single day and we all still have a lot of contact with each other (over zoom and in other ways) despite the pandemic.  Not a day goes by when I don’t talk to one of my friends.  I can’t even think how I got through being alone there.  Now I wouldn’t be able to do that.  But then again, that experience helped me find what I was looking for.

I discovered I didn’t ever want to be alone.  I wanted to find a good, solid community.  I also discovered that I did not want to sit behind a computer all long, that I wanted to do something where I had contact with people.  I didn’t want to read about things that were far away from me.  I wanted to do an active job.  I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and just read all day long.  Most of all I wanted to have purpose in my life.  I didn’t just want to process other people’s information.  I wanted to create my own.  I wanted to influence people and have an impact on their lives.  All of this I learned during that cold, dark Scandinavian winter.  My most difficult season.

Last year before the Covid hit and everything went haywire, I went to see a friend’s band play in Cambridge.  I had some exceedingly happy times in Cambridge going to Honkfest, out for dinner with friends, listening to jazz, going kayaking, going to Head of the Charles and the list could keep going on.  That night too was very special.  I had never seen this friend perform with his band before and the music was catchy and charming and his stage presence mesmerizing.  We had all met when I was teaching at one of my university jobs.  There I was thinking — I’m here listening to this interesting music with my friends from my time teaching at the university.  There was something so remarkable about it.  

For some reason, my mind though suddenly went back to that job in Sweden, on what turned out to be my last day on the job.  I left the place and was walking across this bridge.  I was walking, to where I had no idea.  I lit a cigarette because I smoked back then, when I was in a very anxious state, which I was.  I was crying and smoking and had no clue where I was even walking to.  I was in a strange city where I knew no one.  There wasn’t even anyone around to tell what was had happened.  I remember getting home eventually and my dad sending me an email telling me that it was going to all be ok.  It was going to be ok?  I mean my life was over right then and there.

These memories came flooding back to me a year ago.  I was astounded that I thought my life was over at that point, when really it was just the beginning that led me to where I am now.  I’ve thought about it a lot how things we think are going to have this huge impact on our lives really don’t have that big of an impact.  I went to Sweden fourteen years ago for a few cold winter months.  Except for my two best friends and my parents, no one in my life now even knew me then.  I have some pictures and a few souvenirs from that place now.  I have cordial contact on Facebook with two people I knew then but that’s it.  Then on the other side of it, I took this part time job in this goofy, dysfunctional school in Downtown Crossing and was told I could maybe stay two weeks but not longer.  I stayed for almost seven years and this whole new life and career opened up to me.  It’s never really the end of the world, just a new beginning.  A difficult season can lead to better season.

Anyway, if you have persevered through the prose, you get a reward. Here are my recently rediscovered pictures from Stockholm. Sweden has that Scandinavian goofiness but they’re all a bit too serious. Give me their Gammeldansk drinking neighbors to the south any day of the week. Sorry Swedes!!!! But Stockholm is very beautiful, I will give you that.

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