I approach the end of 2011 with mixed feelings: On the one hand, I can’t wait for it to be over. It’s been a terrible year. I lost one of my best friends in the terror attacks in Oslo this July, and several of my friends are what the media now call “survivors”. Even for someone like me, who didn’t experience the terror, only the loss and grief that came with it, these last five months have been tough to get through. Late in the year, I also had some health problems that tore my already shaky psychol0gical defenses down further. On the other hand, I’m almost afraid to let go of 2011.
The marker itself is arbitrary, but this year more than ever, I need 2012 to symbolize a new beginning. A year in which we don’t forget, but accept and learn to live with the loss. Hopefully, 2012 will also provide a satisfying answer to one of the questions that have been haunting me ever since the tragedy occured: How am I supposed to respond? I don’t mean in the sense of what ways it’s appropriate to grieve, but what comes after that. When people you love and respect die fighting for a cause you had in common, how can you best honor their memory? My immediate reaction would be to double down on politics, to march, petition, speak up for the values that where attacked but not weakened, their values. And mine. It seems almost self-evident: Since our dead friends can no longer speak for themselves, we must take up the fight on their behalf.
Except, it’s not that simple. At least it hasn’t been for me. I threw everything I had into the campaign for the local elections in September, but even as I did that, I felt that what I did was somehow inadequate, or at least a very disproportionate answer to the scope of the tragedy. This may have been an irrational reaction (I’m sure Tore and the others would have wanted us to go on fighting for the cause of social democracy), but it has persisted. I still struggle to marry the relativel small-scale political work I’m doing day-to-day with a vision for an adequate way of paying tribute to my late friends. This is where politics suddenly is interwined with the Christmas spirit itself, understood as taking stock of how I’ve been as a person in the last year: Have I been a good person? Do I find my life to be meaningful?
A short blog post is not the right format to answer either question, but the mere question that they have to be asked indicates that my answers are not straightforward. I can hope that I’ve been a source of support for people around me in these hard months, but the grief process also entails an unavoidable sense that my grief is somehow self-centered, since there are always people who are worse off than me. On the question of leading a meaningful life, for the first several months I repeated a mantra to myself: Do whatever it takes to get through the day. And I succeeded. After that initial phase, the question of the appropriate response has become more pressing. My hope for 2012 is that I’ll able to channel the sorrow that is always there into something more constructive, something that feels meaningful, appropriate and which further the reach of the values of social democracy.
Yet no matter how much I may look forward to turning the page on 2011 in order to find a way to move on constructively, a significant part of me wants to stay in 2011. Not because I fetishize the misery of this year, but because I have an almost paralyzing fear of forgetting. It’s like even admitting that I want to move on from this year constitutes a possible betrayal: What happens when the sense of loss fades? Do I even want things to go back to normal? Wouldn’t it be safer, again, more appropriate, to stay within 2011, to ensure that I never forget? Yes, this too might seem like irrational questions, but I’ve been struggling mightily with them nonetheless.
Occasionally throughout the fall, I’ve been trying to blog about these thoughts, or even about something random and shallow, but I’ve published very little of it. It just didn’t seem appropriate, like it would somehow diminish or disgrace the memory of the tragic events and their aftermath. I struggled to find the words to express precisely how I felt – how do you rip your heart out in a foreign language, anyway? – so in the end I stayed silent.
That said, you shouldn’t necessarily expect a deeply personal turn on the blog in 2012, but believe me, the events of this summer will be there, in everything I write. It informs how I watch movies now, how I read, what music I listen to, and what political issues I consider important, as I imagine it would impact anyone. It keeps me from forgetting.