True Peace of Mind and Heart

by Kenneth Rayman on August 26, 2017
My travel agent didn’t have any contacts in Norway so she suggested that I ask the hotel to help. I got off the plane not knowing if I’d have trouble due to language barriers and ended up paying for, I’m sure, the wrong ticket to board the train to the hotel because I couldn’t find the English button. Though once I arrived in downtown Oslo I saw a wide open beautiful square with fountains, statues, and bustling with people. I was once again amazed at the climate but was in awe of the clear blue sky and the way Norwegian flag popped against it. The flag was just so vibrant I couldn’t help but stare and enjoy the cool breeze that blew through the square.

The next morning after I recovered from jet lag, the map from the hotel showed me that the huge building that I had stopped and admired the flag at was the Storting, or the Norwegian Parliament, and the street I was walking, toward a building with a long sand pathway, was the way to the Royal Palace. I laughed to myself because while in Finland the previous month I had been two blocks away from the Presidential Palace, and a pure happenstance resulted in my agent booking my hotel again a block away from one important governmental building and a short walk to another. It was almost like they knew my childhood fascination with the US Presidents and how it would translate to that.

The palace’s garden shocked me by how open it really was. There were guards marching around in what looked like Musketeer inspired uniforms but the palace gates had a sign that read “Please enjoy our royal garden” and underneath a sign that listed the only rule of the garden… “no grilling,” sleeping in the royal garden, playing in the royal garden, and picnicking were fine but grilling was not (I chuckled). It made me feel welcome in the nation and see a true openness with the head of state and people as one. I would later find out that the square outside the Storting is usually filled with presentations because they keep the windows open in the chamber where the representatives meet and it allows the people to be heard. Such practices astonished me for being taught as a kid I was from the freest country in the world.

Next, was the harbor down from the square where I would take a boat tour of the Oslo fjord, which literally means “valley of water,” with the Nobel Peace Museum next to it. The boat tour would provide me with gorgeous views of cloud formations that looked like they were painted in the sky with the sunlight hitting them just right and the glistening sun on the water as well as narration of the history of the city and country along the way.

The Nobel Center was a place that I could have stayed in forever as it had the aura of peace and serenity all around it. Everything felt right in the world and I was able to forget the turmoil back in the US with people being so petty as to degrade you just by association with a icon of a mule or elephant. The first floor had an exhibit that was dedicated to the Syrian Civil War and the displacement of children, families torn apart, and Syrian exchange students who, in effect, have become nationless while aboard, a resulting identity crisis, as well as stigmatization for being Syrian. The headlines in the news were shown to be just that, the exhibit showed the truly deeper story of the human experience. The second floor had two main rooms, one devoted to the current peace laureate, Juan Manuel Santos, for his efforts and ability to end the decades long civil war with Columbia’s FARC political party and military; the other a “Nobel Garden” with computer screens of every Peace laureate in the history of the award with lights made to resemble a sprouting garden and, overhead, recordings of lectures given by the winners of the most recent era.

On the way to Norway, I caught a movie on the plane, Anthropoid, that chronicled the Czech resistance to the Nazi regime that was phenomenal. Knowing that Norway was also occupied I was intrigued to see if I might find something related to it near my hotel. The other side of the harbor housed Akershus Fortress which was the original fort built to defend the town establishment at the founding of the Norwegian kingdom. The grounds also housed the Norwegian Resistance Museum, so I went to satisfy my curiosity.

Walking up the hill I found a stone monument to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt overlooking the harbor. A friend would later send me information that said it was to thank FDR for his support when popular support was waning in the US for the Norwegian plight, thinking that Norway could have done more to resist the Germans, and Roosevelt’s refusal to abandon them in advocacy.

The Resistance Museum was amazing for a student of history, like myself, who always wondered why they were occupied in the first place. The exhibits gave proof that Hitler was more concerned and convinced that the Allies would not invade from Normandy, France but from Norway. He was assisted by a Norwegian, Vidkun Quisling, who would become the Norwegian equivalent to the early United States’ Benedict Arnold, though unlike Arnold, Quisling would not survive as he was executed for his crimes after the war. Quisling’s name, like Arnold’s, became synonymous with treachery after his betrayal.

Like the movie I’d seen, the Norwegians fiercely resisted and staged several protests and petitions to resist the local Nazi administration’s agenda with film actors/actresses, judicial representatives, and teachers staging walkouts and mass resignations. Though unsuccessful they showed, to me, an enormous resolve to stand up against the oppressor while the underground militant resistance focused mainly on sabotage; they were successful in destroying a factory that was known to produce the heavy water for Hitler’s V2 rocket program for nuclear weapons.

The feeling that I was home in a strange land was intense and I began to dread the flight out. I get attached easily, no doubt, but just like my feeling of being at home in St. Petersburg in May, I felt like I was leaving another new home. Norway’s beauty, to me, is beyond compare and has shown me yet another place for a return trip and a new passion to learn its history, as it was a five day journey into the peace that I’ve only ever read about in my life.