My Perfect Norway
When I left Norway at the end of May I was saying goodbye to what seemed a perfect place in my mind.
I spent five weeks in Kirkenes, a small town tucked into Norway’s north-eastern curl, where I experienced some of the best things in life.
I was surrounded by natural beauty: the rugged tundra, the black-blue Arctic Ocean, the Finnish forests that seemed to stretch to infinity.
But I was most in awe of the sort of man-made beauty I saw in Norwegian communities and society at large.
In their daily lives, the people I met exemplified some of the best of human qualities.
These beautiful people laughed often, smiled always, worked hard and cared about tomorrow. I saw them be open-minded and optimistic about the future. They were kind and concerned about others, and I can’t imagine them showing anything but respect for another human being. Everyone I met seemed to have a deep passion for life – they loved life, and so they loved you because you were alive too.
In Kirkenes, a mélange of cultures co-exist and have adapted to each other: Russian, Sámi, and Norwegian …
In this sense, Kirkenes is perfect, at least to me. And so, in my mind, Norway is a perfect place by extension.
I feel very attached to Norway. When I heard the terrible news from last week I was angry. How could someone do something so horrible to such a perfect place? Why did he have to go and ruin what’s good?
I know I wasn’t alone in feeling this sad anger. One of my Norwegian friends refused to even write Breivik’s name in an email, instead referring to him as “this man/object.”
Kirkenes is far from Oslo, where Breivik set of his bomb, and the Utøya island where he shot innocent, promising, politically active youth. (How dare he? I can’t imagine all of the amazing things these people would have achieved in their lives. And we need as many engaged youth as we can get in this world.) But Kirkenes was still tragically affected. Thankfully, three youth from Kirkenes on Utøya survived the shooting, but six or seven young people from Finnmark County (the province that includes Kirkenes) lost their lives.
I can’t (and I hope I never have to) imagine what it is like to have such a violent massacre of young people occur in your home country, but I know my attachment to Norway gave me just a tiny sliver of the experience would be like. And it was horrible.
I’ll admit for a second it toppled my idea of Norway as perfect, or in any way different from the rest of the world. I was seized with cynicism, thinking “here we go again, more violence, more hate. Just the latest in a long list of horrible atrocities we inflict upon each other as human beings.”
But, impressively, I was pulled from this weak and unproductive state of mind with help from my Norwegian friends:
“such terror can’t win”
“we will protect our society by coming back to normal life again”
“turning our back on violence”
“look forward for tomorrow with more openness, more democracy, a common goal for freedom of speech and of course to embrace multiculturalism”
These were the words contained in the email responses I received after sending support and condolences to those I know in Norway.
What amazing people. What a country. My cynicism melted into hope and pride.
These people are digging deep into what the madman Breivik could not destroy: the sense that we all have a stake in one another, that we are all fundamentally the same, and that we are each worth something.
Thank you, thank you, thank you again Norway – You have shown the world that evil is small and human goodness is real.
My heart goes out to my friends in Norway. An evil man has done a lot of damage – and for that he should be justly punished and any others like him stopped – but whether he acted alone or with others still out there, the evil people will never win. Norway’s response shows us exactly why.
People are generally and fundamentally good. I have to believe that – not only because the world seems hopeless without it – but because I see goodness every day: in these brave emails from Norway, in a person’s small, simple act to help a stranger, and in the way we continue to come together and build communities, intent on relying on each other despite a history marked by sporadic but repeated acts of violence against one another.