My mind sort of went white and silent all of a sudden as I considered this description. Okay, so I was ever so lucky to develop Rheumatoid Arthritis when I was 34. Does that mean I'm frail? Somehow less than that balls-out chick who jumped from balconies and dirt-skiied down the dusty ravine beside my house when I was a kid? There is a huge dissonance between the person I feel in my bones and the one this doctor was looking at. But I guess what really bothered me was the dubious assumption that physical and mental weakness were not necessarily mutually exclusive. (Don't ask me why I jumped there.)
Then I started thinking about my characters and how they develop. Have I let some frailty slip by me when I wasn't looking? Do they ever feel the way I did at that moment? Probably. Should I allow them to feel that way? Maybe.
One of the big issues I tackle with my new characters is their flaws. What does that really mean? I look at it as more of a blind spot in most cases—that part of their personality that gets them into trouble. But what if it's something that keeps them from achieving their goal? They could be one in the same, but not always. Good character development is complex and lets the reader squirm a little. We cringe when they say the wrong thing, but that only makes them more real to us. We slap ourselves in the head when they make some bonehead move that puts them in danger or alienates them from the other characters, but that only elevates the sense of triumph when they succeed or deepens the mourning when they fail.
I've spent most of my life hearing about and facing my flaws. Let's just say I've had a lot of practice. But what does that really mean? Is there some continuum where the degree and number of flaws a person has add up to frailty? Somewhere in that doctor's office I started to think so. I thought about it as I drove home. I thought about it as I slammed the car door shut. I thought about it as I prepared to take my child to the orthodontist to have her skull expanded so all of her teeth would fit. I'm not sure I really have an answer, but in the end it seems to come down to that dirty little literary notion of the human condition. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose we are all frail...small and frail and oh so significant.
W.B. Yeats wrote a lot about human frailty... (please pardon my maudlin indulgence).
He with body waged a fight,
But body won; it walks upright.
Then he struggled with the heart;
Innocence and peace depart.
Then he struggled with the mind;
His proud heart he left behind.
Now his wars on God begin;
At stroke of midnight, God shall win.