Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia by John Dunlop MD, Free for CAPC Members
Dunlop’s book tackles a subject that few of us would care to read about in a way that encourages, informs, and relieves fear.
Everyone has a breaking point. No matter how emotionally stable you seem, no matter how physically fit you might be eventually everyone has a breaking point. The world of The Walking Dead continues to bombard our main characters with one horrible scenario after another. This world reminds them that they are all still, at some level, weak. Expressing weakness can, however, be real strength.
“Kinda at the point where everyone alive is strong now,” Abraham had said. There’s some obvious truth to that statement. To have survived the zombie apocalypse for over a year and a half means you have learned to adapt, adjust, and to fit into this world. Yet, their ability to survive can conceal the reality of their own fragility. Regularly Rick reminds Carl that he is never safe. These characters are strong, but in episode seven of season five we also see their weaknesses.
Father Gabriel is the most noticeably weak in this episode. Since his appearance this season viewers have known particularly of his emotional fragility. When Carl tries to teach him to defend himself Father Gabriel can’t even hear the words. He becomes squeamish at the thought of having to kill. “I need to lie down,” he tells Carl. When he is forced to fight off a walker he can do enough only to survive, but he can’t bring himself to drop a rock down upon its head. He tosses the rock aside and begins to weep, again. He is a very emotional man, and viewers wonder just how long he can survive outside the church. He lacks any basic skills needed to survive in this world.
Eugene too is weak. That’s most evident as he lies unconscious on the pavement throughout this episode. His weakness predates this, though. He spoke plainly to Tara saying, “I know empirically and definitively that I cannot survive on my own, I cannot.” Eugene is useless to the group, and both he and now they know it. But Eugene’s revelation that he is not a scientist, that he cannot cure the world, leaves not only his weakness exposed but the group’s.
Abraham is so overwhelmed by this earth shattering news that his weaknesses manifests in paralysis. He sits motionless and dazed on the pavement staring at the horizon. He can’t speak, and doesn’t care when others speak to him. He has shut out the world as he reconciles himself to despair. Maggie too feels the weight of the loss of hope. She keeps pressing on but she tells Abraham to get over himself, “You’re not the only one who lost something here today.” The loss of D.C. was a blow to her too. She had set her hopes on a bright future, a future where she and Glen could start a family. As they laid together several episodes back she spoke about the joy of being able to see a brighter future, but that is gone now. She is feeling the weight of despair in this episode too.
Sasha is the other character noticeably weak in this episode. She hides it well behind her anger and rage, but Tyrese can see through the façade. Daryl asks Tyrese if she’s doing okay and he can answer honestly, “No, no she’s not.” When Tyrese finally gets her to talk about it, Sasha reveals that she wasn’t strong enough to kill Bob herself when he turned. She has been harboring guilt and shame for asking Tyrese to do it for her. “I should have been able to do it,” she says. She isn’t strong enough.
These people are strong. They have survived a lot. They know how to handle the dead and the living. They’ve survived walker hoards, and a living army. They are preparing now to take the hospital and rescue Beth. They are strong. And yet, they are still weak. No matter how strong they become this world has a way of reminding them that they are still weak. The recognition of this weakness can, however, be their strength.
If they are willing to see it their weakness can drive them to greater survival. Brené Brown urges readers to see vulnerability as essential to life. She writes, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences” (Daring Greatly). But, according to Brown this is not weakness. Many of our main characters in The Walking Dead are so reticent to feel, to express their feelings, to open up to others. They believe it is weakness to do so. Brown calls this view of vulnerability as weakness a myth. Vulnerability is not weakness its part of life that we all experience, and to express it is courageous. When Sasha finally expresses her vulnerability she finds grace and healing. Tyrese urges her to see that expressing vulnerability allowed her to find help. She couldn’t kill Bob herself, instead she asked Tyrese for help and in many ways fulfilled what Bob most believed in: community. When she confessed this lingering shame to Tyrese, she finds encouragement and release from the sorrow. Her vulnerability leads her into greater community.
Vulnerability often leads to greater community. When Eugene opened up to Tara about tampering with the bus he found that she was ready to accept him into community. Even after he spills his deep secret she is not ready to completely abandon him. Maggie goes out of her way to provide shade for Eugene, to protect him. He is part of their group, even if he is not a scientist. The confession of weakness leads to greater community and, in turn, will aid their survival. It is those who think they are above vulnerability, above weakness, who are more likely to die, and often die alone. Weaknesses isn’t necessarily weakness, instead it can be strength.
This broken world regularly reminds these characters that they are weak. If they are willing to own their weaknesses, see it in terms of vulnerability, willing to express it, they may yet find that weakness is strength. For when they are weak, then they may be strong.
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