Attention: The Walking Dead fans who are a bit behind on Season 2, beware this post, or at least catch up on the series before you read. Spoilers from Episode 3 ahead.
We’re all far from perfect, and I’m certainly no exception. Our imperfections take different shapes and forms, depending on the day and our personalities. One of mine is that in spite of my best efforts to be positive and appreciative of all that I have, there are times when I give in to a sense of futility and desperation and wallow in my “have nots” like a pig in a mud puddle.
To my credit, these times are becoming more and more rare. A lot of that has to do with changes I’m making in my life. For example, I used to wallow constantly in not having enough time to write. I’ve learned that instead of investing all that energy in moaning and self-pity, I should turn it towards writing. That’s yielded some finished works and some publication successes, and now I at least have those to focus on when the “blue meanies” set in and make me question myself.
Our attitudes really do shape our lives.
Knowing that doesn’t always make me live by it, though. Our brains and our moods are contrary things. Sometimes mine let me put on my big girl pants and tackle the world. Other times, they have me wanting to throw a “why me” temper tantrum a kindergartner who didn’t want to share his toys could take pride in.
Sound familiar to anyone?
I was in one of those moods not too long ago. Thankfully, I didn’t actually throw myself on the floor and kick and scream and pound the ground like Tom Brady being sacked. But I sure enough envisioned myself doing just that.
Hey, life is tough, and I was having a “this sucks” moment. I had gone into a panic over how needed repairs to this and that this year had dwindled my meager savings down to nothing. I had hoped to use some of those savings for holiday gifts. The bank account being too empty to get my loved ones what I want to get them for Christmas – for what seems like the millionth year in a row – sucked me right out of my happy place.
A positive thinker would say “the economy sucks. You’re blessed to be able to keep up with the bills, even if it is by the skin of your teeth.” Then that sunshiney person would think “you’ll just have to be creative and come up with gifts that don’t cost anything but that people will love. Give them the gift of time, and your writing skills, and caring.”
But in the state I was in, I wanted to pop Little Miss Sunshine in the nose for such puppy-and-rainbow thinking. I gave into the fat wallowing demon in my head. He’s got saggy jowels and bloodshot eyes and a half-empty bottle of whisky in one hand. He swigs from the bottle and then whispers in my ear with sour drunk-breath.
“If you were better at managing your money and taking care of things, you wouldn’t be in this situation. You’re just too stupid to get ahead.”
“Loser. You’ve worked yourself sick for 20 years, running on a hamster wheel you don’t even like every day. And THIS is what you’ve got to show for it? Let me get the tattoo gun and put that L right on your forehead. Oh, wait, nevermind. Your broke ass can’t afford a tattoo.”
“If you were a better writer, you’d have made it by now. Instead of spending all your time at a job you have to do and still being broke, you’d be writing all day and people would be buying your works. Stop kidding yourself. You are no writer.”
“Give up. Go crawl in a hole. There are so many people in the world who don’t work half as hard as you do, who have more. They let someone or something take care of them. You’re a pathetic fool for trying so hard and falling on your face again and again and again.”
Sound a little harsh? Yeah, and to tell you the truth, I’m toning it down here. My big fat wallowing Despair Demon is a mean mo-fo.
So when he takes over my brain and starts drooling whisky all over what’s left of my hope and common sense, I do what many of us do to fight despair. I escape into guilty pleasures.
One of those pleasures is The Walking Dead. I love this series for the drama and the emotion, the sometimes witty dialogue and yeah, the zombies. I turn to it to escape into another world for a while, even if that world is one I wouldn’t want to live in. Sometimes watching people struggle to make their way in a world that is more hardscrabble than yours makes you feel better, as long as you know their suffering isn’t real.
The Walking Dead takes me away. It is zombie-infested Calgon, and I like it. But I don’t expect it to teach me any life lessons.
So imagine my surprise two Sundays ago when I realized that even a show full of shuffling, oozing dead dudes and dudettes could teach me a thing or two.
OK, final warning. If you ignored my spoiler alert and read this far anyway, here’s your last chance to escape. Go watch the episode and then come back.
In Season 2’s episode 3, main character Rick Grimes’ son Carl has been shot and is fighting for his life. His only chance of salvation is to let a veterinarian perform a risky operation. The shooting was an accident. Carl, Rick and Shane had stumbled upon a deer in the woods, and had shared a magical moment where the deer stood still and watched them approach. Carl had been moving towards the deer, making eye contact with it the entire time. Unbeknownst to them all, an unseen man in the woods, who didn’t know Carl was there, was just about to turn the deer into dinner. The shot went through the deer, and hit the boy too.
So there they are, in the house of a strange veterinarian and his family, with Carl barely clinging to life. Rick and his wife Lori are debating whether or not they should risk the surgery. Lori is in the throes of despair. She’s tired of a life that is nothing but day after endless day of escaping from drooling dead freaks. She’s exhausted, and convinced that the endless running, horror and fighting is all life now has to offer her son. She wonders aloud whether it would be a kinder fate to just let Carl die, while there are still enough pre-zombie-apocolypse good memories to outweigh the bad times.
She asks Rick to convince her otherwise, and although he does not believe letting Carl go is the answer, he cannot find words to explain to Lori why he believes life is still precious. He’s beaten down and tired too, and envisions a hard and horrific life ahead for his son just as much as Lori does.
Then Carl wakes up briefly. Rick was with him when the accident happened, but Lori was not. So when she rushes to his bedside and Carl sees her, the first thing he does is tell her about the beautiful deer, and how it almost let him touch it.
Afterwards, Rick and Lori are talking again. Rick has found the words he needs to explain why their son’s chance at life is worth saving even in the bleakest of times.
“He talked about the deer, Lori. He talked about the deer.”
Lee and I were watching the episode together. At that moment, he turned to find me all leaky-eyed and sniffling beside him. That line had brought me to tears.
A little boy who had watched people he knew and cared about be torn apart by zombies on a regular basis did not wake up screaming. A kid who had been shot while trying to approach a deer didn’t open his eyes remembering the bullet hitting both him and the animal. Instead, he woke up eager to talk about that magical moment when he stood before the deer, looking it in the eye, his hand outstretched.
He talked about the deer.
No matter how tough things are, we all have moments of simple, awesome beauty in our lives.
In a frazzled and hectic workday where everything goes wrong and the to-do-list grows faster than your fingers can fly, a co-worker might say something that gives you a deep belly-laugh.
While you sit in front of a pile of bills and try desperately to figure out how you’ll pay them all, and come up short no matter how many different ways you do the math, your significant other may come up behind you and give you a hug, or rub your shoulders. Or your cat might jump in your lap, knock the bills to the floor, and purr happily. And in that moment you realize that even if your worst fears come true and you can’t keep the lights and the heat on, you’ve still got something to hold on to.
What are your first thoughts when you open your eyes in the morning?
Do you remember the toys scattered all over your living room that you need to clean up, or do you think of the light in your child’s eyes while he was making the mess?
Do you grumble that your husband left the damn toilet seat up AGAIN, or do you smile because you know when you walk into the kitchen he’s going to hand you a cup of coffee with the perfect dose of cream and sugar, just like he always does?
Do you beat yourself up over that extra slice of pizza you ate yesterday, or congratulate yourself for the 15 extra minutes on the treadmill?
Do you agonize over all the things you don’t want to do today, or look ahead to the few free moments you’ll have when those chores are done?
Do you wake up thinking about the zombie, or the deer?
In each and every day, there is always something worth our time, energy and love. We may have to search for it through piles of unappealing rubble, but it is there. Grab those moments and hold on tight, and your life will always be worth living, your goals always worth trying to obtain.
The next time my fat, blubbering Despair Demon tells me my efforts are futile, I hope to shut him up by talking about the deer. My deer may be a thousand words written, a special moment with Lee, a wine-and-giggle session with my favorite girlfriends, a chapter in a book or a TV show that gave me chills, or simply my warm cozy couch and my pets around me at the end of the day.
I am realistic enough to know that as a sometimes world-weary grownup, there will be moments that I look at things more as Lori did than like a hopeful child who still believes in magic. But if you look for them, there are reminders that magic might exist even when adulthood makes you temporarily blind to it.
So, what is your deer?