Fighting back in Norway

I wish I were here under happier circumstances, because I’m falling in love with Oslo.

The city — wooded, hilly and unpretentious — is exactly how I’ve always imagined the Pacific Northwest. There’s a calmness here, a down-to-earth quality.

And in the aftermath of Friday’s incomprehensible tragedy at a downtown government building and a nearby political summer camp, perhaps what’s impressed me most about Oslo is the city’s unending grit.

No Norwegian is taking this lying down. The streets are full of people, and the main memorial in front of the central Domkirke Cathedral is just as swarmed by crowds as some of the city’s top restaurants and bars. There is no retreat in Oslo — Norwegians are responding to the attack on their way of life with a fierce commitment to living as they normally would.

I was 12 when 9/11 occurred, and too rattled and scared and young to participate in or really observe New York’s recovery. I hid out in my youth and my suburbs, waited for the bad man to go away and everything to return to normal.

The people of Oslo seem to have skipped that quiet, withdrawn step.
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After a long day of reporting, I headed to the Queen’s Pub tonight — one of Oslo’s oldest bars, located in its ethnically and religiously diverse Grønland neighborhood.

I asked a woman near me to translate the song being sung by the young, hip couple performing a cappella.

The woman, Laura, informed me that the duo was singing an old Norwegian folk song about enslaved farmers seeking and eventually securing their freedom.

I wasn’t surprised — the song’s themes fit in with the goal of the night, as announced by the first performer: "We’ve had a lot of sad news lately, so we’ll be playing some happy songs."

Laura rattled off chilling statistics — 600 kids on the island means about seven or eight thousand young Norwegians who know someone directly affected by the attack. That’s a whole generation struggling to define a new normal, she said.

Thousands of young Norwegians, she told me, will now be forced to wonder if their place at university or their starting spot on the soccer team is because the person who should have been there was killed.

Laura went to university outside of Orlando, Fla., living for some time near Daytona Beach before moving to White Plains, N.Y., and then Manhattan. She was in the States for 9/11 and had friends who died in the terrorist attacks.

But what happened in Oslo is different — Anders Behring Breivik committed an atrocity the scale of which she said has never before been seen in human history.

For Norwegians, that’s no reason to stay at home and give in to grief. Laura said it’s crucial for Oslo residents to take to shops, bars and restaurants — like the healthy Queen’s Pub crowd did tonight as they listened to covers of protest songs like Buffalo Springfield’s "For What It’s Worth."

Laura’s logic was blunt.

"It does no good to stop living now," she told me.

It’s a powerful testament to our ability to move forward — and a simple reminder even in these times of unspeakable horror that this, too, shall pass.

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