sisu and going home

The Finns have something they call sisu. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win. The Finns translate sisu as ‘the Finnish spirit’ but it is a much more gutful word than that. Last week the Finns gave the world a good example of sisu by carrying the war into Russian territory on one front while on another they withstood merciless attacks by a reinforced Russian Army. In the wilderness that forms most of the Russo-Finnish frontier between Lake Laatokka and the Arctic Ocean, the Finns definitely gained the upper hand.”  — Time magazine, 8 January 1940

Going home isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

In about 28 hours from now, after my last work shift of the year for The Man, we Sirvio three–human and canine alike, will begin our journey home, back to Central Wisconsin. We look forward to a week at the original Chateau Sirvio, not worrying about work hours. 2011 has been a very trying and wearying year, and to say that my threads are showing is an understatement. A week’s worth of rest probably won’t be what I really need, but it will be adequate, if for no other reason than it has to be.

I’ve needed that sisu on more than one occasion this year. I also needed that sisu before we finally left the 715 for what we thought were greener pastures in Kansas City…and again when we needed to pack up and eventually move to Mecca. Going home is wonderful and terrible all at the same time: while it is where I grew up, it isn’t home anymore. It is there where I and my family’s honor were sullied and my not-yet-birthed career got the partial-birth treatment; where we were knifed in the back by people who claimed to care about us. It takes nothing more than sisu to return to a place where people tried their damnedest to declare us persona non grata, to walk about unafraid of who might see us. That anxiety is still there, though, years after the fact.

All that aside, home isn’t much of a concrete concept anymore. Sure, there’s a house where I grew up, my parents are still there, a few friends and mentors, 20+years of memories in the middle of the mitten. As my experiences took me around the country, though, and I began to develop meaningful relationships with people in Minnesota, Missouri, Florida and went through a graduate experience where I met very dear friends who are scattered across time zones, the familiar became strange, the strange, familiar. I will always have a connection to the place where I grew up, but it isn’t home.

Home is not a geographic place, it is a relational place: home is wherever I am loved and may love.

I could be in the middle of nowhere Nebraska–redundant, I know–and if I were with my puppy, I’d be fine. I couldn’t have endured what I did post-Florida without my wife. sisu may come from within, but it operates best in a community where it is allowed to be drawn out. (Upon further review, perhaps sisu is something akin to the fire I referenced in last week’s post. Never occurred to me until now. Huh.)

And tomorrow night, when the clock strikes 2 and most of the world is in bed, it will take considerable sisu to park the car, finish loading the other car and get on the road north, knowing that the other side of St. Louis (and a nap, as the co-pilot takes over, while Seneca sleeps through it all) are only three hours away, but true rest is that much further. We Finns are good at extraordinary endurance beyond endurance of the physical, mental and existential varieties. But even the hardiest Finn, like anyone else, needs rest in its myriad forms.

Many of you may not be where I’m at with regard to home, and I envy your ability to have a place where home is home and nothing can bother you there. You are blessed with a haven, and you should be grateful for such a gift. Perhaps you are where I’m at, feeling like you’re fighting an army of tanks in the woods. Perhaps Christmas itself will be a battle. My heart goes out to you, and I encourage you to endure, regardless from whence your bloodlines come. Your rest will come somehow, some way; somewhere, someday.

Make no mistake, I am looking forward to coming back home. I haven’t seen my parents in months, the elder brother Sirvio and his family in longer. I hope to make a brief return to Milwaukee, my beloved place of birth where I haven’t been in three years. Mostly, I hope home will give me the chance to re-center myself and come back here in 2012 ready to face what challenges may be waiting for me then, ready to continue becoming the person I want and need to be. sisu gives me hope that whatever is on the other side is going to be better than my lot now, and that attaining being (that is, coming as close to it as possible on this plane of existence) is not an exercise in futility, but a demonstration of the power of unusual endurance and God’s graciousness through it all.



sailerb will be off until the Wednesday after Christmas. Safe travels, and may your time away from life for the holidays be restful. Thank you for reading, and happy Christmas to you all. –b.


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