Real change can often seem just out of reach. Like it’s close enough for your fingertips to make contact, but just too far for your hands to wrap around it. I spend most of my weeks working with men and women who struggle with substance abuse. They can attest well to this proximity issue. Change is close and yet so far. The desire for change, however, keeps them pressing forward despite difficulties. They try. In season five episode six of The Walking Dead we are reminded of the importance and value of “trying.”  In a broken world sometimes the best that anyone can do is try.

Carol in particular knows the importance of trying. She spent years not doing it. Episode six takes Daryl and Carol inside a battered women’s home as they try to navigate downtown Atlanta. Carol knows this place. She ran from her, now dead, husband Ed, but she didn’t stay away long. “We were here a day and a half,” she tells Daryl. She returned home and prayed that things would change, but “I didn’t do anything,” she says. Ed’s death was like “a burning away.” Once free from him she was able to change. But those first flames, if not controlled will consume her. She is aware of that. She keeps seeing pieces of her old self burned away, but with the fear so now has gone some of the compassion.

Carol is a different person in many respects, but it’s not always clear what kind of person she’s becoming, even to her. She is not the scared little woman of seasons one and two. She has changed quite substantially from that. Now she is the woman who murdered David and Karen. She’s the woman who says to Daryl in this episode, “I don’t think we get to save people anymore.” When Daryl asks her why she is out with him looking for Beth she can only respond, “I am trying.” She’s trying to be different, but it’s hard. She’s not sure she can stay with the group anymore either. She was planning to leave, to take an abandoned car and run. Then Daryl stopped her. Daryl asks, “What if I didn’t show up?” She simply says, “I still don’t know.” In part she was running because she just couldn’t face losing anyone else. She says:

I don’t want you to die. I don’t want Beth to die. I don’t want anybody at the church to die. But I can’t stand around and watch it happen either. I can’t! That’s why I was gonna leave. I had to be somewhere else.

Daryl is quick to remind here, though, “ You aint somewhere else. You’re right here, trying.” That effort makes all the difference.  That effort is keeping them alive. Daryl reveals that starting over isn’t a choice. “The reason I said we get to start over is because we gotta.” Surviving means trying.

But trying is about more than just survival. Trying is also part of the process of change. As they try they change. Daryl says he is trying to change, as a result Carol can say he isn’t the same. “You said I aint like how I was before. How was I?” Daryl asks. He was like a kid before, now he’s a man. The trying has changed him. It’s changing Carol too. It changed her from the scared woman into a real survivor, and slowly it is changing her from a heartless survivor into a woman of compassion. When given the chance to kill Noah, who had just recently stole their weapons, she can’t do it. The trying has been a means of changing.

The world of The Walking Dead is clearly broken. Carl was right when he told his dad, many episodes back, “You can’t keep me from what always happens.” Carol can’t save everyone. She is bound to see more loss, more death, more sorrow. The world is broken. She too is broken. As a part of this world, as one under the pressures of living in this corruption she will always struggle to change. Like so many she is tempted to give up at times, to think that isolation is better. But she keeps trying. Like water running over stone change comes slowly, but the repeated effort makes a difference.

In a broken world not everything will be resolved. My friends in recovery know this well. Not all change happens in this broken world. Theologian Wesley Hill reflected on this beautifully as he wrote about his own struggles with same-sex attraction. What is true of him in his personal struggles is true of all of us in our struggles, it’s true of Carol. Hill states:

Taped onto my desk where I write is a small sheet of paper with a quote from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart.” Having patience with your own weakness is, I think, something of what Paul was commending when he described the tension of living on this side of wholeness. When God acts climatically to reclaim the world and raise our dead bodies from the grave, there will be no more homosexuality. But until then, we hope for what we do not see. (Washed and Waiting, 50)

Trying is part of that hoping. Putting one foot in front of the other matters. As Carol waits patiently for change in her own heart she doesn’t stop, she doesn’t stand still. She helps to rescue Beth, she rescues Noah. She keeps trying. The trying matters. In a broken world sometimes all you can do is try.

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