The strength to be grand

November 9, 2020
  • November 2, 2020
  • Cancer blog

By Ian Robinson

So there I was, reading a magazine article online about the anti-fascist subtext of post-war Scandinavian children’s literature …

I know, I know. Could my life get any more exciting? Restrain thy envy. It’s not a good look on you.

Don’t know about the rest of you, but this Covid lockdown has led me down some interesting intellectual back alleys. Did you know Pippi Longstocking was written as a Nietzschean superman in a child’s body with a benign spirit to stand in opposition to the misuse the archetype was put to by the Nazis? Yeah. Me neither.

Anyway … one of those writer-artists, Tove Jansson (author of the Moomins kids books) was writing in her diary in 1944. Russian bombers had just blown out the windows of her Helsinki studio. She had not been able to paint in a year. She worried that “war is making us smaller. People don’t have the strength to be grand if war goes on for a long time.”

What a gorgeous phrase. “… the strength to be grand.”

Tove Jansson

I suspect it’s not merely war that saps our strength to be grand. Cancer, for sure. Stir in a little Covid just in case the soul-murdering isolation and pain and suffering of cancer isn’t enough. And why don’t we ice that god-damned cake by watching our neighbours to the south enjoy a nationwide political psychotic break while we’re at it, shall we?

And yet …

I look around at my brothers and sisters at Wellspring and I know this.

We are not people governed by our fear.

Oh, we feel it.

One of the best ways we fight our fear is to come together with people who walk the same path. And the real-life version of that is denied us by Covid. (Zoom classes are the only thing keeping me semi-sane at this point, but it’s a poor substitute for the real thing, alas.)

But like my great and grand friend Linda once said, “You want to talk isolation? Try having a stem-cell transplant!”


But I have been careful to watch and listen to my people during those Zoom classes.

I think we’re doing okay.

And when we’re not? Why, we’re sharing it, the way we did before we were reduced to hiding in our homes. We are sheltering from a biological bomb unleashed upon our world that can easily kill those of us in the Cancer Tribe. Tove Jansson was sheltering from literal bombs. This isn’t as bad as war, but for those of us who are vulnerable? Let’s just say it’s scary and leave it at that.

But we are stronger together the way we were stronger together before this all happened.

And what brought us together was Wellspring.

And Wellspring is still here.

We are still here.

So be grand, my brothers and sisters. 

Fight to be grand with every fibre of your being.

Rise above the sturm und drang of the moment and remember who you are. Because we are not fearful people. We are not people who capitulate to circumstance. We are not people readily lured into despair.

We are better than that.

We are … if I might be so bold … we are grander than that.

In times like these, it’s important we keep that in mind.

5 Responses

  1. ohmigosh, what great writing! We need more of the subtext in Scandinavian kiddies’ lit and also some details on the unreliable narrator in today’s fiction! Do write on!

    By the way, I’ve just finished reading Lisa Ray’s “Close to the Bone”–quite the multiple myeloma journey if anyone’s interested.

  2. Beautifully written and I am now in tears. Thank you Ian.

    PS, I loved Pippi. I wanted to be her. But I didn’t understand what you said about her…..

  3. Thank you,my dear club member. WHAT A BEAUTIFUL WAY TO THINK just when I have stated to notice myself getting smaller.I will start the day and each day,in these crazy times.reminding myself TO BE GRAND. I love it. Take care of you.

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