She trudged wearily onward across the frozen lake. With numb fingers, she tried to close her collar a little tighter, but the cruel wind slipped inside anyway, stealing her warmth and leaving a bone-deep chill. The arctic sun hung on the horizon, touching the world with the weakest noontime sunlight; that was all the illumination the day was going to bring.

Even with little hope, she kept going. The message MUST get through.

The Finns have this gorgeous word – sisu. It means courage, determination, a refusal to give up even when the entire Russian army is just over that hill and about to invade.

In a John Wayne movie, it would be called true grit.

In a Jewish deli, it would be called chutzpah.

I’ve kind of talked myself into a bind here, because my need for sisu is not in resistance to an invading army or the quest to uncover a murderer or the wholesale slaughter of a people…

…my need for sisu is based on the size of my butt.

Feels sort of weak and self-aggrandizing, huh??

A few days ago (see the post “Unflinching”) I posted a photo of my butt in the hopes that I’d be able to own my truth and be proud of who I am. Many kind people said supportive things and you’d think that would be enough – and yet I’m so vain and self-centered that I discovered I was demoralized by the reality of me squeezed into unattractive Spandex… especially in a part of the body I’ve been very good at ignoring in the past. Oh – a three-way mirror? No thank you!

But the reality of any quest – including the quest for health and fitness – is that there are slogging, plodding, demoralizing times as well as exciting, I-just-shrunk-two-pants-sizes times. I can either give up and sit down on that frozen lake and pull out a pint of Ben and Jerry’s (oh, dear – that’s a BAD choice for the frozen lake scene)…

…or I can keep going, relying on sisu to pull me ahead when everything in me says “Damn – let’s go back to pretending that posterior isn’t so alarming.”

And actually, I have to add to my imagery of the lonely frozen lake trudge, because in my case, there are at least five sturdy ropes tied to my waist, leading forward into the arctic gloom – and at the end of each rope are champions who are straining with all their might to pull me on, for I do NOT make this journey alone.

There’s Barbara on the lead rope – my trainer at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA, who just smiles at me when I want to quit and makes me do “three more!”

Flanking her are Grace, also a Body Dynamics trainer, and Gwynn, my therapeutic masseuse. Grace and Gwynn are between them unlocking the muscles of my thorax. I didn’t even know they were locked up.

On the wings are Chad – stretch class teacher grimly muttering “Good stuff!” as he pulls even harder – and Chip, nutritional guru, who trots back to me periodically as I trudge across the lake to give me pumpkin seeds for life-restoring zinc.

There are SO MANY people attempting to tease and flatter and threaten and coerce me across the frozen lake; SURELY the message will get through: A nicer ass is waiting right over there. Don’t stop now. Keep going!

I’m so grateful to have a team to help me. How DARE I be demoralized?! Team Sisu to the rescue!

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 12.27.40 PM

A photo by Johan Kleventoft that comes up if you put “Laatokka winter” into Google images. Lake Laatokka is where the vastly-outnumbered Finns held off invading Russia in the Winter War of 1940; that’s where the rest of the world came to recognize the Finnish concept of sisu.

3 thoughts on “Sisu

  1. The past is so interesting in retrospect. What does two sizes smaller Pru (she with the abs of steel), say to Pru from a couple of years ago who hadn’t yet been to body dynamics? And future Pru — She’s going to be so freaking proud of you, as we are now of the Finnish Army.

    This morning I did a little happy dance in honor of 35 years younger Sarah who decided to learn to spin yarn. Wasn’t’ she smart to be so persistent?

    Also, it occurred to me while reading this post that the people around us are SO USED to our butts that they probably do not even notice them — particularly our massage therapists who treat every inch with a kindness that seems impossible from one’s internal critical perspective. No conclusion there, just something I rarely think about. Thanks!


  2. I love your imagery of your team pulling you along. And then you have those of us behind you, pushing you forward. I feel so excited about your progress and your accomplishments.


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