Yesterday all flags were flown at half-mast in Norway, in honor of all those who lost their lives Friday July 22 2011. I offer my own condolences to all those who have lost loved ones, and to Norway itself.
It’s been an intense week. I have learned that those of us who actually turned off the TV and distracted ourselves with something totally different did the right thing.
It has been non-stop in the media and now I find myself praying that my daily newspaper will have a normal cover tomorrow. For the seventh day running I have been treated to a single photograph with one large title covering the whole front below the masthead, all related to the horrible, unbelievable events of July 22. I’m looking forward to some photo and blurb above the fold, the usual sidebar and something below the fold including the ads, which I never read.
Norway’s holding up pretty good. People are always better than their reputation: Humanity tends toward good, not bad, though it sometimes takes a crisis to bring out the best in us. Norway rose to the occasion, in unison, focused on joining hands and hearts. I am proud of this nation for doing that.
It still hurts. Thinking back while I write this still produces tears.
I’ve read that it’s OK for those of us who have no personal stake in the terror event to take it personally because it is a national event that effects everyone. It is a nationwide shock and we all have our individual response to it and our way of handling our reaction.
For myself, alone at home in the midst of vacation time, Facebook with my friends and groups there to share, comfort and inspire, has been a good place to go in lieu of getting a real hug. There have also been memorial services, memorial marches, and thousands and thousands of flowers and candles left all over Norway. I am looking forward to going back to work on Monday, not to commiserate—there will be that—but for the distraction work gives.
Some people have gotten furious. Some have felt despair. Some, especially teens, are afraid it will happen again. My own reaction is sadness—and then I try to remember that the only way forward is through forgiveness.
I was listening to Sting’s “Fragile” on the radio Thursday. For the first time in my 50 years, I have finally understand exactly what he means when he sings about how fragile we are. (It’s become the anthem for Norway’s day of terror.)
We are fragile. The human body is so vulnerable to violence. Death comes so easily. The human mind that conceived of killing innocent youths is also fragile. And for weeks and months and even years to come, our own hearts will be fragile, every time we think of the loved ones that are gone forever, every time we think of the Friday in July when our entire nation lost its innocence, every time we think of the murderer and are reminded that there are no monsters; there is just people.
We have no way to stop this. We have no guarantees that tomorrow will be just as harmless as today. But we have hope and courage, and I am so happy to hear that the Labor Party Youth organization will continue, that its remaining members are inspired to preserve democracy, and are not disheartened.
As for what will happen next in Norway, some citizens are already demanding that the police be given the right to detain anyone who may be seen as a threat. I pray that we don’t go down that road. It hasn’t served the US post 9/11. Norway is so proud that it has an open, democratic society and I think we should keep it that way. The killer was paranoid; we shouldn’t be.
I mentioned forgiveness above. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not about absolution. It is not even about closure. Forgiveness is about starting the process that will eventually heal all of our minds so that thoughts of hatred, fear, rage, or bitterness no longer cloud our thinking or color our attitudes. Forgiveness helps us put the past in the past, and not let it keep hurting us in the present.
Most importantly—and uncomfortably—forgiveness is about seeing how the other person’s wrong could have been your wrong. We all carry seeds of hatred, of anger, of resentment. Claiming we would never kill someone, anyway, ignores the fact that we nevertheless allow ourselves to have such feelings. We like to find fault with others—whether it is a family member, a co-worker or a politician. We like to bad-mouth them and we are pleased when they fail or make a mistake, because it “verifies” our own “good judgment”.
Forgiveness is a way of not letting negative feelings fester. It is also not about forgetting. I said it starts the process of healing. Forgiveness does so by allowing yourself to consider the innocence of the other person, by remembering the other is as human as you, and by exploring what good can exist in the situation. Most importantly, forgiveness is to keep yourself from letting the bad take root in your own heart. You may have to forgive over and over and over, but that’s OK. That’s normal and that’s why it’s a process, not an end-point.
Many years ago I read the following targeted at bosses: Try to catch your employees in the act of doing something right.
I suggest that we do that outside the workplace: Catch our fellow humans doing something right. Focus on finding the good in people. This past week in Norway has proven that it is very easy to do.
Footnote: Wikipedia’s entry on our worst day since WWII