I feel as if I’ve found treasure when I learn a new word, so I was  delighted to discover sisu (pronounced see-su).  It’a  a word  that’s so important in Finland it’s become part of the national culture.  I don’t know Finnish,  but I do understand – and desire – the qualities the word embodies:  determination, perseverance, courage . That doesn’t mean momentary bravery, but the ability to remain courageous in the face of overwhelming odds.

            This brings  me to my husband.  When he was given a stark diagnosis Mel said , “I don’t like the cards I’ve been dealt but I’ll  play the hand the best I can.” That’s not only courage, it’s what Hemingway famously called “grace under pressure.”

            Is there anyone who doesn’t have to cope with pressure of one kind or another? Some of us fold up under it. I confess that my original reaction to my husband’s illness was a tearful, “Why us?”  He said, ”Why not us?”

            The Finnish soldiers revere the concept of sisu and believe it gave them the fortitude  to  fight the powerful Soviet  army in 1939 and perseverance during months of  dangerous sub-zero weather.

But challenges don’t have to be historic or life-threatening, they can be wrapped in any ordinary moment.  How about the sngle mother coming home from a long day in the office,­­­ ­“too tired toto do anything but crawl into bed,” as a friend put it,  yet summoning strength  to give  her children the undivided attention they need? The Finns understand that as “calling on your sisu.”

            And what about writers who get a discouraging series of rejections? Their sisu isn’t the ultimate publication, but the detrmination to keep going to the computer each day. For sisu doesn’t mean the goal, but what you do to reach it.

            On a far more major scale, what about those of us who have to endure the loss of a loved one? Do we see ourselves as helpless (and hopeless)  victims ­– or do we find  the strength within ourselves to move on?

            Another personal note: Six weeks after Mel lost his valiant battle I heard that one of our favorite poets, Stanley Kunitz, was giving a reading in the public library. In a wrenching struggle I decided to go to the reading for both Mel and myself.  I was numb, could barely hear a word Kunitz read.  But without realizing it,  I was taking a sisu step toward a necessary new life.

            For ultimately sisu means refusing to accept your limits, then willing yourself  to go beyond them.


Latest book: ARISING, available at and Amazon.


There’s a popular cliche that preaches, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Easier to say than to do, I’ve always thought. But an Ohio woman seems to have found the recipe.
Now in her nineties, Judy was given the lemon of widowhood when she was only 55. Her husband had kidney disease and for eight years they’d lived with a “time bomb,” she says. Afterward she saw a “long dark road” ahead of her. “But I learned I could handle day to day what would horrify me if I thought it was the rest of my life.”
Fast forward to this year. Judy recently decided to sell the house she’s lived in all these years and move into an assisted living facility. “There was no choice,” she says. ”My daughter had been living with me and constantly worrying. I didn’t want to limit her life.” What happened next has been a test of her ability to convert lemons! She describes the experience, frequent laughter punctuating her words.
“The first evening I was assigned to a table in the dining room,” she says. “Two women seated across from me were obviously unhappy to have me join them. They put napkins over their mouths so I wouldn’t hear their conversation. A third woman, sitting beside me, didn’t speak at all. ‘Don’t bother with her,’ I was told. ‘She’s a silent one.’”
But Judy believes that “everyone’s available if you hit them right.” Aware that the woman always got to the dining room ahead of time Judy deliberately arrived ten minutes early one day. Sure enough, the “silent one” was the only one at the table. Judy began talking to her, but at first the woman just stared at her. “Then she began to open up. She told me she was from Tennessee and had played the guitar since she was a child. I think she felt more comfortable with no one else listening to us. Later someone told me that the guitar story was a lie. But so what?”
The greater problem was that Judy didn’t feel welcome. “Maybe it had something to do with my being the only Jewish person,” she says. “There’s one woman who won’t even look at me.” Although nothing was said directly a religious tract was left in her room.
“I had to make sure I didn’t close in on myself.” So Judy devised a strategy she’s continued every day. “I make a point of stopping at every table as I come into the dining room and greeting each person . I also try to say something personal to at least one person at each table. I do the same thing again on my way out. ‘I hope you enjoyed your meal…Have a nice evening.’” She was amused to overhear murmurs of,”What a nice lady!” She also started a trend she says proudly. “Two of the women are now doing my greeting routine.”
Advised to join in activities such as Bingo Judy refused. ‘ I studiously avoid being part of a group.” She prefers reading in her room. “But I keep my bedroom door open so everyone knows they’re welcome.” By now she knows everyone’s story.” I wish I were a writer, because their stories are so interesting.” She particularly relishes watching the romantic relationship between two of the residents. ”He’s a sweet man, but she turns into a witch if he even looks at another woman,” Judy says indignantly.
Still , she’s no Polyanna (the fictitious child who was forever optimistic ). She worries about the health of her son, who’s in a different assisted living facility. And as a former English teacher, Judy frets about the grammatical errors in the facility’s fliers. ”I offered to edit them but they’re done by an outside company and I don’t want to seem pushy.”
Although Judy’s realistic about how much time remains at her age she refuses to dwell on it. She does admit she gets a sudden surge of grief when familiar words or a tune on the radio brings up memories. “I get teary but I let it pass. After a while life begins again.”
I tell her about the lemon quote and her exuberant laugh breaks out again. “Lemonade is on the menu today!”

Just published: “ARISING” – Available in print and E-book at and