“Sisu is a Finnish term that could be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. The equivalent in English is ‘to have guts’, and indeed, the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. However, sisu has a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain the same.” –Wikipedia
Both my great grandparents were 100% Finnish. A lot of their culture is still present in my mom’s family. None of us can stand to be bored so we’re always working on something. We all have a deep appreciation for the landscape in which we live. Most of us can make 30+ meals with potatoes, cheese and milk alone. And there is a lot of SISU.
I’ve always understood the term to mean a blend of courage, stubborness, fortitude, pride and passion. When my great-grandmother Bessie immigrated to the US from Finland at 14 years old, she started to show some sisu. When she moved to the Yukon Territory and then to Alaska where she ran a bakery for prospectors with her (also un-married) sister, that showed even more sisu. And when she married my great-granfather Ed and settled in Beaverton Oregon to raise their son and make a house and farm from nothing but a 40-acre flat piece of land, that was probably the greatest demonstration of her sisu.
Its hard to explain, but that blend is something to strive for in our family. Not everyone has it – or wants it, for that matter – but it is in our blood. It gets us in trouble sometimes, but it also allows us to achieve seemingly insurmountable goals. Failure is not an acceptable option when you have sisu to draw from. The past two years on this farm have given me a window of insight to the true expression of sisu. I can only hope that, like an old friend, it will continue to let me turn to it when the need arises.