I’ve always admired tough old guys, the ones that seemed to be made of gristle and determination. The whole world could rise up and smash them in the face, and they’d just give the world that look that says “Don’t you be gettin uppity with me, son. I done whipped your kind before, and I’ll do it again.” Tough old guys, with an indifference to anything other than the task at hand…but always with an eye towards something beautiful and natural in need of admiring.

Bereft of a ranch of my own, I figured I’d never get there, never be that kind of old guy. Turned out it didn’t matter, though. All you need in life, to learn to be tough, is just a whole hell of a lot of adversity. You probably don’t even need that, but I’ve never supposed I’m anything other than kinda slow on the uptake. Anyway, for me the adversity was the block I needed to get past. Once I put it in the right perspective, anyway.

My life has not been an easy one, but I’m still here. More deserving people aren’t. Despite it all, I’ve kept going on, against my will more than a few times. A lot of black nights in the pouring rain, metaphorical and not, your whole world can come down to whether you take that next step or not. Your heart, your gut, your thinking mind…they all tell you to just curl up in ball and die. Every bit of you that is who you are, just says…right into that gutter over there. Just lay down, and soon it will all be over. No effort required, just stop.

But your damned feet just keep moving. One step after the other, with some force that comes from hell knows where. You are all kinds of blasted and empty, but that hollow shell just keeps moving. In that place you finally know that willpower means nothing. Even determination can be stripped from you by the right circumstances. But your damned feet just keep taking one step after another.

Eventually the sun comes up again, and life becomes all kinds of sweet. You can’t take any credit for that, though. If you had even a lick of your own way, you’d be long gone. But you take what you are given, because your feet are still moving. The night will come again, and so will the sweet sunrise. Once you’ve been through it enough, it all becomes the same. The feet keep going. One step after another. The heart beats, the lungs breathe. It ain’t all that bad. After enough days and nights of that…it kinda stops bothering you.

The days become less of a contrast to the nights. And that dark, nasty, stormy night…you start to notice that the rain smells sweet. You start to see the night creatures, the rats and owls and spiders and raccoons, huddled up in the shelter with you. All of you together watch the rain come down, and feel the wind. All alone in that companionship, you are never really alone ever again.

Walking on when there is nothing left of you but the footsteps, learning to smell the rain, learning about the hidden world around you, you start to become something new. You and the world build together, raindrops and steps, a new person.

Toughness isn’t anything other than just being a part of the world, knowing that you and the world both move on despite everything. When my steps stop, the world’s will keep on. That companionship is enough to make all the troubles that get thrown at you shrink down. They ain’t nothing next to a drop of rain, and bitter rain made you what you are, and what you are ain’t a bad thing at all.

Being tough is simple. You just stop thinking about what it all means. Don’t fret about how the phone call will go, just pick up the phone and dial before you realize you’ve done so. Don’t try to figure out the right way to hit the nail, just swing til the jobs done. Don’t worry about the sweat on your brow, just do the workout. Don’t think about winning or losing or how people will see you, just step up with sword in hand and face the next person who comes up to challenge you. Mask on, salute, and fight your best. Just keep on.