The Norwegian music group Vamp, based in Haugesund, Norway, has made many beautiful songs since it was established in 1990. A particularly melodious song, written by the group’s founder Øyvind Staveland and Ingvar Hovland, is the ‘Little Bird’, in Norwegian, ‘Liten fuggel’. It became tremendously popular internationally when it was released five years ago, and is now also distributed under the label of Universal Music. You can find it on YouTube and enjoy the music and the sound of the language, even if you don’t understand every word of Norwegian. Below, I will give you a summary of the song, its main message, which is relevant always, indeed as we begin the brand new year of 2018.

We are all fragile birds, says the song. If we are injured and not fit to fly high, we have to fly low and make the best out of it. And then, also those who fly low have golden wings and are unique. Yes, we all have potential to excel – in spite of being tender and fragile. Some of us are hurt and have had difficult lives. We may have had difficult starts, or we may have run into problems along the road we chose, or were forced to take. All and each of us need care, love, friendship, and above all, we need to be seen, be noticed, and given encouragement so we can face the days ahead. We need the Pakistani family structure around us, which at its best is indeed the best. We also need the Scandinavian welfare state, which the social democratic politicians have created over many decades – and now, in our misguided privatization age, some want to clip its wings.

In my below translation of some of the lyrics of ‘Little Bird’, I don’t put my it in quotation marks since it is not quite accurate, and I also add some of my own thoughts, hoping to make it easier to understand and reflect on. 

Øyvind Staveland was a chimney sweeper before he became the talented songwriter and musician he is today. He wrote the ‘Little Bird’ with Ingvar Hovland, who is a trained teacher. They have both been more successful than I have been, I belive, in spite of all my degrees and more. Yet, we human beings are similar anyway, regardless of class and cradle, land of origin and residence, possessions, faith, and other things, as we struggle to do our best and make sense of it all. We are all longing for better things, and we worry about those who are in our care, under our wings; we all need to be comforted and to give comfort; we all need hope for this life and the one hereafter.

And now more directly to the lyrics of the song: The two first verses in ‘Little Bird’ say that there is joy an value in all life, including in the life of the fragile straws in the wind on the sea shore. The whispering sound from a birds’ trek on the sky may remind us that nothing and no one will be with us forever. The nightly harvests in the wild may keep secrets that will never be told. Besides, one day, everything will be forgotten.

The song has been written as a fable and it needs you and I to interpret it and make sense of the beautiful and inspirational words.

At a New Year’s gathering in Islamabad, I had asked Shireen Gheba Najib, a writer, painter and teacher, to speak. She focused on the near things in her home, her old parents who are now about 90, honouring them and telling the audience how important it is that we in our busy and competitive lives don’t only strive to perform and achieve. It was a good reminder – in the spirit of the song I am drawing attention to in my article today. Shireen’s parents were once those who gave comfort and care, provided for their children, yes, their own parents, too. Now, life is different; they need help and care. Yet, they also contribute and provide simply through being there, showing how much they appreciate their children and grandchildren. They have time to notice those who are busy, those who grow up and come of age. What a blessing, and how pleasant that Shireen drew attention just to that part of life.

The same day, I attended the 40-day memorial of Zulfikar Butt’s passing, held at the home of his widow Lynley Ruth Butt, with their three children and grandchildren around, some having come from far away. Lynley met her husband in London when she was training to become an opera singer, having moved to the UK from New Zealand. Only Zulfikar could have made her give up her career and move to his land of Pakistan, now also her land, so he could continue his carpet business, she said. I was probably a sacrifice to give up becoming a famous opera singer. Yet, she has been a successful music teacher, raised children and looked well after her family. Judging from the kindness of the children and their spouses, and their successful careers in art and more, Lynley is a blessed woman, even in her grief. I hope she and those around her notice that, and notice her.

In my work of teaching, speaking and writing, I meet many people, from the top of society to those lower on the ladder – in the end, we are just people, all of us, yes, ordinary and unique. I meet many people, older people, middle-aged and young people, successful and less successful people, and the latter may be the best and the most important. I am always impressed by them, their energy, eagerness to do things and help, their smiles and hard work. As I am also getting on in age (but with a young heart!), I am learning to pay attention to the individuals I meet; I want to see the person behind the profession or job, behind the facade and persona, if he or she wants to tell me something. If nothing more, I can notice the people I meet, and I can hint that we are all in the same boat on life’s journey. Nothing is more important than to notice another person, as I too would like to be noticed. It is the little things that give me energy and courage to go on; it is not as much the big achievements and the issues that we can read about in the newspapers. It is the everyday things that count more. If we, as we make our life’s buildings, can place every little brick in its right place, or a good place at least, then we can build palaces and peace on earth together. I believe Shireen and Lynley keep doing exactly this.

If we can notice all the needy people in poor lands, and also in rich lands, that need help, fairer and better policies, and we try to work for practical political solutions and results, then we have made essential contributions. We have an obligation to do so, to find ways of sharing and of organizing our societies more justly. “It is in giving that we receive”, said Francis of Assisi, the rich young man who gave away his wealth to serve others, and later became known as St. Francis; when Jorge Mario Bergoglio became pope in 2013, he took the name of Pope Francis, in admiration of the saint, and as a reminder to us all to work for the poor and needy, the little birds that fly low on the sky – with golden wings.


The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.