Last week in Denver, far away from Scandinavia, my oldest brother woke up in the middle of the night to worry. When my niece was born last year, he and my sister-in-law decided to name her after the European capital he had lived in as a teenager. Now, my brother was afraid his daughter’s name had been dirtied by the terrible events that had occurred in her namesake. Many Americans my brother has met haven’t even known where Norway is. Now, they do, but some only because of this violence, murder and hate.
If you are from Oslo, you probably know someone who was either injured or killed on July 22. Håvard Vederhus is my closest connection. He was in the grade above mine in high school, and we were on the student council together my first year. The following year, Håvard became head of the council, which took itself very seriously.
During my stint, I was terrified of saying anything stupid, so I did not speak much at all. I cannot remember having a conversation with him, because I probably never did. However, he spoke frequently at assemblies, and I gained a strong impression of him. He seemed friendly and positive, and I have only ever heard good things about him from friends that knew him better than I did. He was one of those people who you wonder where they get all their enthusiasm from. How could he care so much about politics? How could he put so much effort into such frustrating, complicated and sometimes seemingly tedious issues? I can only wish to even have half the willpower Håvard Vederhus appeared to possess.
I was in Molde, on Norway’s west coast, when the bombing and shootings happened. It felt oddly distant. My family was in the United States, so I knew they were safe, and I quickly made sure none of my friends were in danger either. However, my friend Audun, who I was staying with, kept saying it was “just too close.” Audun knew people who had been at the site of the bombing and people who had been at the site of the shootings. His roommate back in Oslo, as well as his roommate’s mother, who worked in the bombed government building, went to the hospital. Boys Audun had coached in soccer had been on Utøya. “Why does everything have to be so holy?” he asked. That night, Audun called a former friend, whom he had not spoken to for months out of anger, and suggested they talk soon.
I returned to Oslo in time to participate in the downtown memorial on July 25. The only other times I’ve seen that many people in one area of the capital is for Constitution Day celebrations, but never in such a concentrated mass. The turnout was even more impressive considering how many are on vacation at this time of year. In Oslo and across the country, more than a quarter of all Norwegians participated in local memorials. Respect and love flooded the streets. There was a minute of silence and we all raised our flowers. From above, we looked like a giant, human flowerbed. A child asked his father why we were doing this. The father responded: “Because it is beautiful.”
Indeed, the most beautiful scenes can spring from the worst scenarios – like a rose breaking free from what was the cold, dark, ground of winter. Although Håvard Vederhus, Audun’s friends and all the other victims would have made the world a better place, their deaths do not have to make it worse. And for every day that Norwegians and citizens of every nationality choose compassion over the poisonous words and thoughts of the madman behind this massacre, the name of my niece – Oslo Isabella –becomes that much more of a wonderful tribute to the lives lost on July 22.
Matthew Prescott Oxman is a second-year journalism student at Ryerson University.
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