“The Finnish have a concept called sisu,” explained my Dad. “It means courage, and the strength to make it through tough times. My grandparents had it, my dad had it, all of you have it — and I like to think I do, too.”
My three-year-old daughter was peering through the computer screen at the small digital tiles representing my parents, my siblings, my nephews and nieces, and the photograph above featuring my grandfather, Aser Nurmi, and my great-grandmother, Susana Nurmi, arranged in the standard mirthless portraiture of nearly a century ago. My father was in the midst of delivering a fifteen minute Zoom presentation on Finland, home to his father’s family, that he had tailored to the high distractibility of his six grandchildren. As such, there were references to reindeer and Santa Claus (Finland’s Lapland region is his fabled home), a song about the continents led by my mother (a former Montessori schoolteacher), and occasional bursts of side commentary by little voices. It was the inaugural installment of a four-part series he and my mother have developed to celebrate the different cultures and geographies of our ancestors.
There was something profound about my three year old daughter staring into the eyes of her great-grandfather — probably around her age at the time the photo was taken — through the window of my Macbook. Something dizzying about the fact that there were faces from five generations of Nurmi family members represented on that call. Something moving about my father’s invocation of sisu, a familial and cultural inheritance multiple generations down the line — this year of all years, when so many of us are finding ourselves the branches that snap rather than bend in the buffeting winds. Altogether, it was fifteen minutes of discovery and reunion that were welcome in this period of isolation. It was, frankly, just the perspective I needed on that cold Monday morning just after a holiday that felt quiet in equal measures sweet and grim.
There is an old proverb: “A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.” I don’t think anyone is laughing at the 2020 tempest, but I couldn’t help but think, as I looked at the stern set of my great-grandmother Susana’s countenance, that her sisu might be part of the reason we are still afloat in these parts.
Hoping you find a moment to gather your family to you, to press your heart to theirs, even if only through a 15″ screen, today or some time soon. And wishing you a hearty portion of sisu to make it through the year.
+How are you doing on holiday shopping? I’ve updated my gift guide for small children a couple of times over the past few weeks, and this stocking stuffer guide is full of smaller items that could be bundled together! Email me if you’re looking for something specific — I love shopping for you.
+Dramatic collar, jewel buttons, cropped cardigan — AHHH. All my favorite microtrends in one place. Difficult to resist. Would look tres chic and on-trend with a silk slip skirt and some jeweled mules.
+I can’t stop buying holiday decor…do I need these?
+Such a fun holiday dress — perfect for NYE.
+We gave mini this tent for Christmas last year — we often keep it collapsed in her closet but it’s fun to pull out, especially for indoor picnics.
+Cute little puffer for little ones in great colors for under $25.
+Another good stocking stuffer option. Mini is VERY into dress up these days.
+Love the statement pockets on this pullover.
+Have you done any holiday baking yet?