… toughness is measured by how you react when all the chips are stacked against you, now fast you get back on track when life kicks you in the nuts …

Benjamin Bayani, in The Nation

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I grew up in Somerville, Massachusetts, a working class place on a street with plenty of Irish kids who became my brothers and sisters, which was good for me since I was an “only child.”  Ya, my old man split when I was an infant.

Thank God, for my mother; she saved my life.  She, the oldest of five – her and four brothers she helped raise, played a great hand against a stacked deck. I did too.

You learn lessons in tough places that no book can teach.  Hope is oxogen in these hard places.

Somerville was hardship – abandonment, death, fights and losses of varied sorts. It marked me in a particular way, showed me the importance of taking a “hit” and quickly getting “back on track.”

I remember a fight when I was about seven.  It was a summer fight, outside the schoolyard of the Brown School.  I was with a few pals and the older McDonalds and a few of their guys tried to “bully” us – without any hesitation we went after one another – me against them. One against two.

I remember they got me on the ground and were whacking me pretty good, and I looked up and there were my two closest friends Georgie and Bobby just watching.

Life lesson: your friends may not be made like you.  Nor maybe your familiy members either.

Toughness is like hope.  It is a gift given, meant to be invoked, and life demands its use.

Both toughness and hope are an “impulse of a sensitive appetite.” Each foretells of a good that is real but absent, a longing for what is right and proper and of a higher order than what is mortal, expendable, impermanent.  Each seeks what is gained only by exertion, forbearance, cunning, courage, defiance, insistence, battle.  Each witnesses faith.

Toughness and hope are the worthiest of sentiments in the human heart.  Each seeks moral good.  Each faces in its desire and its acquisition in conflict, at high costs, a pass through uncertainty and pain.  Each calls into place valor, and virtue, and bravery.  The journey of each demands its price.  Each is implicitly rooted in belief in God, in the goodness of God. Each attends to love and its growth in us.  Each teaches that there is no “cheap grace,” no painless way to good. The desire for each tends us toward God.  In this, both are good things.

Now as I sit many decades from childhood and look at Washington and our elected leaders and political figures I see neither toughness nor hope.  Rather I see a lower dimension and comfort in it.  I see weakness.  And if I see it, our adversaries see it too.

Toughness and hope evidence a desire for God, our greatness and highest good. The absence of each calls death to the fore.


Note – Benjamin Bayani, like me, went to Somerville High School.  He is a writer.