Lena Maria Klingvall: What a Wonderful World!

Rubrika: Publicistika – Co je psáno...

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I just couldn’t cope with it. To be born without arms and with only one leg… I would be ashamed of my handicap, I would be angry about my lot and who knows, I might have ended my life long ago. I would be dependent on other people’s assistance and financial support while watching from my chair the passing of time.

Well, I have met a Swedish girl who has blown to bits my – fortunately unfulfilled – preconceptions, Lena Maria Klingvall. Lena Maria paints, beautifully sings (she graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm) and has travelled and performed in Japan, Korea, Thailand, and other countries. She can drive a specially designed car, eat, use the computer, and has written some books, the most popular being Footnotes (what an apt title!). She is a swimming champion and – believe it or not – she took part in the Seoul Paralympic Games in 1988. And to crown it all, Lena Maria, ever the optimist, is always smiling.

When she was born as a handicapped child in 1968 (the reason for her disability was a drug her mother had taken in pregnancy), her father said these memorable words, ‘With or without hands, she will always need a home!’ Lena Maria grew up at home and did everything that other children did. She was just a little different, she adds with a smile. She doesn’t complain about her fate, saying that God loves her since He wanted her to live. Lena Maria’s credo is ‘Don’t take only – give whenever you can’.

I asked Lena Maria to answer a few questions. I know she would love to come to the Czech Republic and sing her songs. I hope that we will soon welcome her in Prague!

By Jan Maruska
•  Lena Maria, one of the most exciting moments when people meet is a firm handshake or a hug. These things can tell quite a lot about the other person, about the real meaning of the words I am very happy to see you, I love you, I missed you. Your handicap doesn’t allow you to do this. How do you feel these emotions?

I travel a lot in Asia and there it’s very convenient for me because people bow when they greet each other, so when I’m there I can greet people like everyone else. Otherwise I often find meeting people rather amusing. It’s always interesting to see other people’s reactions. Almost everyone holds out their hand but when I take it with my hand some people get very embarrassed while others react more naturally and ask ‘How do I greet you?’ I answer that they can just say ‘Hello’. To be different can often be an advantage. People remember me because our meeting was different and I have got to know many interesting and nice people because of this.

•  Your amazing voice has been trained and cultivated for years. Was it you who first noticed the quality of your voice or your parents? Or, perhaps, your teachers or friends?

Actually, I never thought when I was growing up that I would be a singer. But after high school many of my classmates applied for admittance to music schools and since my parents always encouraged me and my brother to do what we found most interesting I thought I would apply for that kind of school because music has always been a big passion for me. To my big surprise I was admitted to the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm and studied there for four years. During those years I had a wonderful singing teacher who helped me develop my voice so that I could become a professional singer.

•  The Czechs feel very sorry for the handicapped and tend to immediately help by giving a small sum of money, giving a helping hand, asking questions. I know that in Sweden it’s not very common to pay attention to people that are somehow ‘different’. Which country would suit you better? Do you, at least from time to time, need assistance or having somebody to look after you?

In Sweden, people with different handicaps are integrated in the society today. We don’t have any institutions or orphanages but all children grow up in families. I grew up with my father and mother and a younger brother who doesn’t have any handicap. When I was seven I went to a regular school the way other children in my situation do in Sweden. Because the system works like this it’s not rare to meet a person with a handicap at school or at work or in a shopping mall. In my daily life I have never needed any assistance but as I get older I have been getting some help to keep my strength. To clean my home and to take care of the laundry and other practical things I have had help for a couple of years now. I think our society needs all kind of people to be a colourful and healthy environment. The more different we allow each other to be the richer our society will become.

•  Your parents had made an unprecedented step when they decided to take you home after birth without arms and with only one leg. I think that the moment must have played a very important role later in your life when you were considering starting a family. What does the family mean to you – more freedom, more duty?

A well functioning family is beneficial to all of society. When I was born my parents could choose between home and an institution. They decided to bring me up themselves. I will be always thankful for this. My life would have been completely different if I was raised in an institution. Instead I grew up like any other child. I live quite a normal life, have a university degree and after my studies I worked and supported myself, paying taxes to the state!
I’m glad to be living in a country where everyone is treated in the same way, having the same value, with the right to study and become an independent citizen. 


Why are you so popular in Asia? What are the Japanese and the Koreans like?

I have been to Japan a few times, plus South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand. All told, it’s been around fifty concert tours in Asia. Asian culture is very different from Swedish culture and there are differences between different Asian countries. It’s hard to know what makes a person popular but I suppose the life I live is very different from those of the Asians. Then I guess they also like my voice (laughter). Perhaps the combination makes it interesting.

•  How do you cope with occasional problems in your life? You slipped and fell outside the Royal Palace (Lena Maria was invited to tea by Queen Silvia), you had problems with your car in northern Sweden (Lena Maria has a specially adapted car that she drives with one foot). Is it the desperation that can make you angry? Or, do you always tell yourself ‘Oh well, other people may have even more serious problems’?

I think all of us are in the same boat in a way. We all run into obstacles and hardships. But then we are different. Some people find it easy to smile, others easier to cry… I am very optimistic and that’s the way people see me. I’m glad to be like this because it has always helped me in sticky situations.

•  You, as a herald of optimism, happy when singing or chatting with others, cannot fail to see when something is wrong. The world of the 21st century has known wars, poverty, famine, lethal diseases, illiteracy, terror. Is the world around us safe? How can we protect it?

When I watch the news and see how many people are suffering, especially children, it breaks my heart. Also, in the rich countries people are depressed and the suicide rate is high. These things can sometimes be overwhelming and it’s easy to lose hope. But there are many people and organizations who do lots of wonderful things to change this world and I think it’s important to help them. I also believe we can do many things right where we are, help one another, show one another love and support, be generous and kind, pay each other compliments and speak encouraging words.

•  You told me that you could not live without faith. You also like singing gospels in the church. What does God mean to you? How can one communicate with the Invisible?

I believe everyone needs something bigger than ourselves to give us energy. It can be many things, a big interest or hobby, a dream or a goal, a passion or even hate, or religion. My faith has given me a good self-esteem and the realization that God created me and loves me more than any person can do gives me much comfort, strength and joy. In Sweden I do a lot of church concerts and then of course I sing songs that describe how I’ve experienced God’s love and support in my life. On my concert tours in Asia I also sing some gospel songs but my repertoire is wider there.

•  I have a friend whose marriage is about to break up because of the different values he and his wife believe in. I know that your marriage with Björn fell apart. In the Czech Republic, many, too many marriages fail. The experts estimate that family bonds are becoming ever more fragile. You’ve had to overcome many pitfalls, you’ve had to fight to fulfil your destiny. When was your worst moment in your life?

I think one of the most challenging things in the world today is to show one another love. We are constantly told through the movies, the Internet, television and other media we should think about ourselves, our career, and ways of making ourselves more happy. We are more focused on how we can receive rather than how we can give. This makes relationships difficult. I don’t think divorce is the solution but it can sometimes be a necessary change.
I don’t know what the worst moment in my life was but I know that my family and friends and also my faith carried me through those moments.

•  Which song do you like best to sing? Who’s your favourite singer (Swedish, foreign)?

I have no idea… There are so many songs I like as so many singers.

•  Lena Maria, I shall never forget that evening at the Czech Centre in Stockholm when you sang ‘What a Wonderful World’. You performed before an enthralled audience. It was really a marvellous get-together. What is your life like? Do you have a message for the readers of Pozitivni Noviny?

There’s a line in that song that says, ‘I see friends shaking hands, saying, how do you do? They’re really saying, I love you!’ I think there is one little thing we all can do to change this world and our lives to become more positive and that is to start each day and greet everyone with a smile! 


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Tento článek byl v Pozitivních novinách poprvé publikován 15. 03. 2007.