Tough Enough

Dave Smith

I like Robert Parker, author of the Spenser novels, some westerns, and the Jesse Stone series.  His main character always has a glib attitude, a humor that attracts my funny bone and creates a true enjoyment.  Tom Selleck played the key characters in TV and movie roles based on the Spenser and Stone novels, a perfect cast of actor/character.  In the novel Sixkill, Spenser chats with his girlfriend Susan about fighting and toughness.  She makes a keen observation.  “Winning fistfghts means being good at fistfighting,” Susan said. “Being tough means looking straight at something ugly, and saying, ‘That’s ugly; I’ll have to find a way to deal with it.’ And doing so.” Being the youngest of 5 brothers and being part of an inborn competitive to the max spirit, I learned what I thought was tough sans the fistfight aspect.  Cannot recall but 1 or 2 short lived, not-so-knock-down-drag-out fights.  Tough came on the sports fields – “get up – be tough – shake it off” – that sort of thing.  Parker offers a far more accurate perspective.

Today I enjoy wonderfully bright sunshine, a glisten on fresh waxed autos, and the burst of green on trees and yards.  Lawnmowers track fresh cut spring into the atmosphere and each person’s step seem a lilt of renewal.  Flowers peek tulip reds and daffodil yellows, planters boast fresh turned soil and soon to bloom promise.  Gardens welcome tillers and clabbard dirt brings its own scents to my moment.  I don’t often see ugly, resist newscasts to mostly avoid such things.  Sometimes ugly strikes close to home – accidents, storms, crimes – but a lot of that isn’t close to the worldlier ugly – homelessness, starvation, drought, disaster, rampant crime, war, collateral damage, and daily death.  I have faced ugly a few times, been knocked down and applied the old adage about “…how fast you get up.”  Tough enough, but not the “deal with it” kind.  More the “ok, didn’t do well that time so I’ll move on” sort of thing.  Not dealing with it, walking away from it with “I tried.”  My brother brings home a far more important point.

When Darcie, Neil’s daughter, graduated from high school, he asked what she would like as a gift.  “A sober dad.”  That ugly moment-facing his alcoholism and its impact on his daughter-proved to be a time for tough or a time to be “I tried” and walk away.   He quit drinking, cold turkey, for the rest of his life.  Also, gave up tobacco.  All the money spent on smokes and booze was saved for his kids use whenever they had a need, a way he gave back the time they lost with him when drunk.  “The whiskey man comes around,” he’d say, “but he won’t win anymore.  I have AA, my faith, and God’s help.”  That’s dealing with it.  I remember my dad on hands and knees, the Lord’s Prayer, and tears as he tried to stop without being asked.  He had amazing strength as well, a very unspoken love and equally powerful commitment to his Lord.  I’d be remiss not to mention my sister who faced the ugly of infidelity, an adultery created child, and struggling through it all to finally bring her wayward husband to acceptance and faith in Jesus.  When asked prior to his impending death what songs from the hymnal he wanted sung, he replied, “All of them” and smiled at sis, at the knowledge he would be in heaven.  He took cancer head on without whine, chose 3 months over chemo, chose quality of life over side effects.  I have good models for dealing with ugly.

I am truly thankful that as life stretches on for me, Susan’s explanation of tough has come to include walking side on side with Jesus.  That adds a lilt to my step, even when the bad rears up and clouds the springshine of a day.  I guess my AA has become, and always will be, Jesus, “Always Available.”