Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We are all Norwegians

"Ja, Vi Elsker dette Landet"
The Norwegian Ambassador and his wife on May 17, 2011 at the Embassy.
(I was honored to be invited as a guest and friend of the Norwegian community here in D.C. )

Last Friday the world turned its eyes to Norway as it experienced truly its most tragic day. I followed the events, from the first curious "what was that noise?" posted on an Oslo friend's facebook page to the real time twitter accounts that scooped the mainstream international press by what seemed like hours. My heart broke as the news unfolded.

Being brought up in the American-Scandinavian traditions of the Lutheran Church, Norway had always existed in a very Garrison Keillor "homeland" sort of way. But I really came to know Norway during my freshman year of college. The luck of dorm assignments landed me on a floor with half a dozen Norwegian guys who had traveled traveled from their rural town in Norway to a very special little school in the exotic local of Tacoma, WA. My best friends and I bonded over our attempts to befriend/impress these foreigners, and in the process made great friends and discovered a country that was more than lutefisk and Ole and Lena jokes. We started by learning the language, which led to discovering the culture, which then opened up a perspective on the world that was totally different from anything I had studied or experienced prior. I learned about Norway's role brokering international peace agreements, their leadership in addressing global environmental issues, and their foresight in using their wealth of oil and gas for the future good of their people.

My interest in international affairs and protection of the environment was inspired by studying Norway, and after a decade of travel, work, and life, my current job allows me to continue to be inspired by Norway's progressive and amazingly broad perspective. So it was from this deeply personal, if not always rational, connection to the small and far-away land of my great-grandparents that I experienced last Friday's events. While horror and grief pervaded reaction across the globe, what struck me was the consistently loving and non-judgmental thoughts that were coming from my Norwegian friends. Many conclusions were drawn on many sides by the media, but I saw again and again messages urging everyone around the world not to place blame on one group/religion. Emphasizing that this was a tragedy and we should be doing nothing but supporting one another. And they were so right. It was a humble reminder of basic humanity, since I, being a product of my environment, had also ventured into blaming mode. An article in the New York Times today captured this sentiment much better than I ever could.

The President of my alma matter (and someone I personally look up to), Dr. Loren Anderson, delivered moving remarks at a service in Seattle this past weekend. He reminded us that, "we are all Norwegians tonight because we are resolved to stand our ground and to stand it together, to help one another live through our grief and anguish, to reflect and learn from our experience, and through it all to move forward once again, and to do so with a more nuanced and even deeper sense of hope and possibility about the future." So true and so important. So I am Norwegian, not just last Friday, but always, because I value the history of my family, the home of friends, and the values of a country that seeks to forgive and love first.

Note: This is my second post in a row where I've stolen the title, but I figured that the source of inspiration in this case in particular wouldn't mind.

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