Leadership Mosaic by Daniel Montgomery, Free for CAPC Members
Leadership Mosaic will remind you to evaluate your heart, your motives, and your relationship with God as it pertains to a role of responsibility.
Each week in “Walking with the Dead,” David Dunham reflects on the latest episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead.
How did we come up with word “normal”? Normalcy is a strange concept with not a lot of realistic reference. In fact normal is often relative to individuals and to contexts, and we see that clearly in Episode Eleven of The Walking Dead. This episode reminds us that there’s not a lot of “normal” in the broken world.
Episode eleven is all about normalcy. As the episode begins we see more reminders of natural life than we have seen in a while. Daryl shoots at a squirrel and finds a snake and Beth picks up a lady bug. Natural life is a buzz around them. Are these hints of a return to life, to the norm in the post-apocalyptic world? But normal in a world with “walkers” is not what most of us would call “normal” at all. Hiding in trunks from zombie herds, getting blood splattered across your new sweater, that’s normal in this world. Lady bugs are not normal in this context.
It’s far too easy to assume that our experience is normative for all people. We often, inadvertently, believe that our world is the exact same as another’s. Such a perspective, however, is really naïve. Beth comes to realize how myopic that perspective is as she and Daryl play a drinking game. As Beth lists things she’s never done, Daryl is forced to take a drink. “I’ve never gotten drunk and done something I regretted,” she says. Daryl takes a drink, “I’ve done a lot.”
The game unravels, however, the drunker Daryl gets. It becomes clear that what he has never done is have a “normal” childhood. “I’ve never left Georgia,” he says. “I’ve never been on vacation.” “I never ate frozen yogurt. I never got a pony. Never got no presents from Santa!” “I aint never had no body look out for me!” What is normal for Daryl is very different from what Beth experienced growing up in a loving home. Daryl grew up in squalor, fending for himself. In fact, part of the reason Daryl has done so well in the apocalypse, part of the reason he has survived this long, he tells us, is because this is normal for him. “I am just used to things being horrible,” he tells Beth. He sits in the “dumpster chair” and drinks his moonshine. This is “home sweet home,” to Daryl.
It’s not that Beth is intentionally insensitive to Daryl. She’s really just ignorant. But a deficient view of normalcy not only creates barriers between relationships, it also has the potential to impede personal development and growth. Daryl, for his part, has let his personal experience stagnate his identity. He is bound by his experience of normal. He talks about who he was before the world ended; he was “nobody.” He refers to himself as some “redneck” fool following his brother around doing whatever he was told. That still defines him today. Even after all he has experienced, all the ways in which he has created a new life and a new existence for himself in this world, he can’t let go of who he was.
Beth confronts him, saying he has to stop acting like what they had doesn’t matter. Daryl wants to convince himself it doesn’t. He throws a sheet over a dead woman instead of helping Beth taking her down. “It don’t matter, she’s dead.” He loved the people at the prison; he had respect for those who died. But now, it’s back to “normal.” Life as he remembers it has no room for human dignity. Who Daryl was determines so much of who he thinks he is now. “You gotta stay who you are, not who you were,” Beth pleads with him. “Places like this, you gotta put them away.” “You have to,” she says, “or it kills you.” Normal is moving scale. What was once normal for a person doesn’t have to be normal forever.
“Normal” is just such an empty, vague, and often misleading term. And in the zombie apocalypse the only thing that is truly normal is that everyone experiences the brokenness of their world. It manifests differently for every individual, and it’s important to be sensitive to those differences. Yet, that dystopia is the common experience. In truth, there is no real “normal,” as we often use the word, in a broken context with broken people. But, like Daryl and Beth, there’s hope that what we experience now doesn’t have to be the norm forever.
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