The 95-year old “Elsa” made me realize how to create an interesting life. She spent her days sitting in a wheel chair watching soap operas on the 10th floor of the single retired women’s residence in Stockholm in the summer of 1977. I was working for the City of Stockholm’s Social Services’ (SSS) department for old people after my first year of translator and interpreter education. Swedish was my major in college and there was a requirement of minimum two months language practice in Sweden after the first academic year. My job was to help old people in their homes.
Two assistants from SSS came to help Elsa up from bed, take her to the toilet, wash, dress and feed her every morning. I came at lunchtime to prepare her lunch and if she needed to go to the toilet I had to call another assistant to help me. Elsa was heavy and did not have much muscle power left.
While Elsa was eating lunch I sometimes had time to sit with her before washing the dishes. One day she told me the story of her life: She was born and grew up with her siblings on a small farm far away from Stockholm. When she was 13, she took the train to the capital city where she worked as a maid or babysitter in some middleclass family. There weren’t any jobs in her home village anyhow.
At 16 she was lucky to get a job at the only Swedish Telephone Company that existed at the time. It was a much better job than working in a family. She earned much more, shared a rented room with a colleague and could start saving for an apartment of her own.
In her free time she loved reading romantic booklets that you could buy cheap, secondhand. In those booklets a handsome hero falls in love with a beautiful woman followed by passionate dating and ending with marriage. That was what Elsa dreamt her life would be too. She would meet a handsome man, get married, live in a villa in a suburb, have two kids, a dog, a car and later a summer cottage on a small island in the archipelago.
Years passed. She continued working in the telephone company. Sometimes she went dancing on Sunday evenings: hambo, scottishe, waltz. Finally when she was over 30 a man came into her life. They met at a dancing event in a park one Sunday afternoon. He invited her for walks, and to movies and cafes. A couple of times he brought her flowers or chocolate. Then one day, suddenly he proposed her marriage. Elsa felt flattered but also confused. She liked the man; he had a safe job in a post office and smelled good. However, she did not feel any of those big feelings she had read so much about, especially nothing like passion.
“I don’t think you are the right one”, she told the man.
The man disappeared from Elsa’s life. She went on with her life, waiting patiently for the right man. In her mid-sixties Elsa was sent to retire. She was heavy after a long life working, sitting in an office, and she started having health problems. Sometime after she had reached 70, she was lucky to be offered a one-room apartment in a retirement home for old unmarried women who needed daily assistance. That’s where I met her.
That evening after listening to Elsa’s story of her uneventful 95 years long life, I sat down and drafted a plan for the following 60 years of my life. It was a rough plan divided into 10-year periods and focusing mainly on what my work would entail during these 10-year periods.
Have I followed the plan? Not at all! Circumstances beyond my control have forced me to make many changes in my life. But the plan has functioned as a guiding star and helped me to see a lot of ways how I can steer my life towards what I want. And definitively it has helped me not to sit patiently and wait for a man to change my life.