Nordic Loneliness and Dag Hammarskjöld
There is indeed something that must be called loneliness in the Nordic culture and life. It is sometimes said to be the hallmark of the new cities, notably Stockholm, where you have probably the highest number of one roomed flats in any city in the world, per capita that is.
However, there is more to it than that. When I was a student in Stockholm many years ago the talk went, rather rudely, that the loners that you saw around in town, were from Norrland, the northern province of Sweden which in any case is very sparsely populated. But this does not explain anything. It is rather a fact, of whatever reason, that our culture in the Nordic hemisphere has embedded the notion of loneliness as a part of reality, as something normal. I know that there is another kind of loneliness that is one of despair, of longing for a partner at all costs, something not uncommon in any city of the world.
Here we are talking about loneliness as a way of life, or at least as a part of a way of life. Loneliness in this sense is then seen as something very important, a state of existence where one can achieve balance and also relate to life in its wholeness, its totality, and to many in terms of faith, a state where God never is far away.
I was struck by this when reading about Dag Hammarskjöld’s life in a book from 2005 by Mats Svegfors, Dag Hammarskjöld. Den förste moderne svensken. Stockholm: Norstedts, 2005. Hammarskjöld grew up in the middle of Uppsala, his father being in the Swedish government and later county chief of Uppsala County. He had friends and family next to him and yet, in order to understand this gifted young man, who early on felt that he was called to something great and important, one has to look at his loneliness. That was always an important part of him, also much later as General Secretary of the United Nations.
In this loneliness he also meets God, but here one can also see that in the dialogue with himself and with God, sometimes explicitly, sometimes in an indirect way, he either only deals with his own self and what prospects he has, or with that which is beyond, God. Reading his autobiography, Markings. New York: Balantine Books, 1993 (1983 and 1964, first published in Swedish as Vägmärken. Stockholm: Albert Bonnier, 1963), posthumously published after he crashed to his death in an aero plane in Zambia in 1961, makes this abundantly clear.
A man, born and bred in a Nordic culture, where loneliness is a basic ingredient of life, went down to his death in Africa, a land of connectedness. What are the implications thereof?