Do you ever doubt what you know to be true?
Sure, you do. You’re human.
I think when you’re far from your comfort zone and living in a foreign country, you doubt yourself even more.
I thought I’d share with you something that happened to me back in June. My family was visiting and we took the blue line (in the Stockholm subway) a few times back and forth around Stockholm. Then we were up in Uppsala a few days then, back to the blue line, crossing over from the train to the subway at Central Station.
Now, this particular exchange in Central Station is a little hectic, the hallways filled with travelers going in every direction, eternal construction, mass confusion. But we were old pro’s by that time, or at least I was trying to show that I was an old pro in the Stockholm subway. These were my guests and I was demonstrating that I had everything “under control.”
The Missing Subway
We were using paper “remsa” tickets so we got our tickets stamped and went through the turnstiles. I double-checked which stairway to use to descend down to the blue line. But the stairway with the sign over it that said “this way to the blue line” was not there. The stairway that I thought led to our train didn’t say anything about the blue line. Whah?
I thought, whoops, we must not be where I thought we were! We must have taken a wrong turn. I stood there, family in tow, strangers with backpacks and strollers flowing around us, and tried to figure out what to do. My instinct was to backtrack down the passageway we came through and start our approach again, like an airplane that had somehow missed seeing the runway. Perhaps we took a wrong turn somewhere?
The problem was that we had already had our tickets stamped and backtracking would mean going through the act of getting our tickets stamped again. (I didn’t know at the time that you can transfer for free within a certain amount of time so it would have been free anyway.)
Not knowing what else to do, we went back to the main intersection of all the subway tunnels in Central Station and started our approach again. I saw right away that this had to be the right place. I recognized the glass doors, there was the “Pressbyrån” that sold newspapers, cigarettes, and candy. But I could see no sign that the blue line had ever even existed. Was I in some sort of alternate universe where everything looked just the same? There was a green subway line and a red line but in this universe, there was no blue line???
How could an entire subway line go missing?
I couldn’t believe that the blue line had just vanished so I was sure I was doing something wrong. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. My relatives, who really hadn’t paid attention the previous times we took the subway, just assumed we were in the wrong place as well. They waited for me to figure out what to do.
There was nothing for it. I had to go up to the ticket booth and explain that we had just gotten our tickets stamped five minutes earlier but that we were back again. I seem to have misplaced the entire blue line, I explained, in halting Swedish.
Ah, said the man in the ticket booth, the blue line is closed between Radhuset and Kungstradgarden for several months, so it doesn’t go to Central Station for now. Construction, he explained. The change had happened a few days earlier, right after we had taken it previously from Central Station. He explained how we could take the green line and transfer to the blue line at Fridhemsplan.
Once he explained, then I could suddenly see that the signs for the blue line had been covered over. Before, I had not noticed the empty space where the signs should have been–a sure clue that there was a change. I was so confused and so doubtful that an entire subway line was missing that I hadn’t even been able to see the signs that indicated the blue line was closed.
There’s been lots of experiments done showing how the human brain simply strips out information it deems irrelevant. It’s fascinating stuff.
In this instance, however, the thing that struck me was how willing I was to believe I had gone crazy. It seemed impossible that an entire subway line was missing. Much more likely that I was insane. Or in an alternate universe. Or not in the tunnel I thought I was in.
Three months later, the blue line is still closed between those stations but there are multiple signs explaining the situation. In some places, there are large round stickers on the floor that explain the blue line will not go to Central Station again until October. I swear all those signs weren’t there that first week. But maybe they were and I just couldn’t see “the forest for the trees.”
I think, even when you’re in a foreign country and you’ve lost all your footing, you still need to draw a line in the proverbial sand and tell yourself, I know what I know. There’s got to be an alternate explanation. Even when everything is strange and you don’t speak the language one hundred percent , you have to still believe in yourself.