I was reading the comments to a post on Raiha’s Fitting The Mold blog (a blog about making the transition from somewhere else to Stockholm), and had a serious “Deja vu!” of when I first moved to here nearly 12 years ago.
Like many, I was a “love-refugee”. I left the U.S. military with a very good career going, arrived here under the impression a job was waiting for me, only to find out that wasn’t the case at all. I went from knowing, without question, where my paycheck was coming from and being able to provide for my family to having no job whatsoever. As any working family man can tell you, that’s a tough situation to face. I was fortunate enough to have friends with a cleaning company here offer me a job as a cleaner. At that time, to call the work humbling would be the understatement of the year; however, looking back I treasure every single day of the fall and winter I had that job. The epitome of it all was the lesson of lessons I would learn when my friend’s company got the contract for the area where I was living at the time. My pride was about to take a blow.
I was washing windows on the street where my ex-sister-in-law, Eva, lived. My youngest daughter (at the time), who spent her days with her aunt Eva while my ex-wife and I were at work, was outside playing. She eventually saw her daddy washing the windows of one of the buildings. What did she do? She ran over to me, in all of her beautiful 5 year-old innocence, said, “Hi daddy!”, gave me a big hug, a kiss on the cheek, and asked me if she could help. As long as I live I will never forget that moment. She didn’t care for a moment that her daddy was washing windows or that he was a cleaner. She loved her daddy and simply wanted to help him; plain and simple. It never crossed her mind that he was agonizing over going from living in a huge house in San Antonio, Texas with a two-car garage and two cars, a decorated veteran in the most powerful military on earth, to washing windows in a country where he didn’t speak the language, not having the job he thought he’d have, and unable to see any financial security in the future. None of that mattered to her. Five year-olds, thank God, don’t have to think about such things. She just wanted to help her daddy. That moment shaped my character for the rest of my days. Like a bolt of lightning, what was REALLY important in life became incredibly clear to me. All that I had achieved before, the big house, the military medals, the cars and all could not for one second equal the hug of my Baby-Girl. The power in those tiny little arms had the strength to change a grown man’s life forever. What was really important became so starkly clear that I wondered how I could miss it all before. That was the beginning of a really important series of lessons I would and continue to receive in Sweden.
One other lesson I learned was to appreciate the work of folks behinde the scenes who rarely if ever get thanks for what they do. I have more respect than most for the back-breaking work of folks who make sure a lot of our work places are clean. It was humbling work, but we earned our money and took pride in what we did. (Ironically, and wonderfully, I found myself partnered up with a former lawyer from Chile, and our Greek boss from Canada who had genuine Spartan blood in him (for all of you “300” fans). There were times when we’d be mopping the floors in what I now know was a Posten office and discussing Plato’s “The Republic”. How about that!)
Since then I’ve worked in a grocery store in Söder (that’s another post all on its own!), as a security guard, and now work as a Telephone Technician and System Administrator. There have been a few bumps along the way, some of them quite severe; nevertheless, I’m a man of faith who believes that a Divine hand has and remains over me.
So, to all my fellow immigrants out there who are toughing it out and going through the motions of immigration my advice to you is rather Churchillian: “Never give in. Never, never, never!” Hard work and humility do pay off. That much I’m sure of! Yeah, this little country has it’s quirks, but don’t they all? Try and stay positive even during the hardest of times. Take it from me, those are the times when the best lessons are likely to happen, so be ready for them. Whatever you do try not to get so down that you miss the lesson. 😉