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Meek, Weak, or Chic} ?> Meekness may be the most misunderstood virtue of the 21st century. Maybe that’s because it rhymes with “weakness,” or because the phrase “meek and mild” has become synonymous with timidity. Perhaps it’s because, in an age of self-gratification, meekness is no longer seen as a necessity. Whatever the case, nothing could be farther from the truth, in my opinion.
Take Vash the Stampede, tragic Western hero of the anime Trigun, for instance. He carries the name of a wanted criminal worth 60 billion double-dollars, but characters and viewers alike have a hard time believing it. Lovable, friendly Vash—a criminal? Maybe a criminal for stuffing too many doughnuts in his face, but certainly not a criminal of the law. On the contrary, Vash refuses to pull the trigger if it means ending a life, and whenever his bullets do accidentally find their mark, he ensures that those wounds are bandaged.
Until episode five, Meryl—an insurance agent sent to evaluate claims against Vash’s notoriety—refuses to believe that the flirtatious goofball in the red trench is the Vash. It’s not until the town is threatened by an unstoppable foe that Vash’s dorky grin disappears and he whips his gun out, firing five non-lethal rounds in a breath-taking, slow-mo, mid-air dive. By the scene’s end, Meryl has no doubt about his true identity.
It’s not the mockery of the enemy that drives Vash into full-throttle, or even the concern that his skilled reputation will be tarnished if he doesn’t retaliate. Rather, Vash has yoked himself to the plow of an ideal—that he is a saviour of human life. Only when those lives are threatened does the playful doughnut-hog vanish beneath the persona of an avenging angel. Meekness makes Vash a visionary—one so focused on the greater ideal he serves that others’ snide remarks and doubts have no effect on him, and self-validating shows of power hold no temptation.
We’re never totally sure who, or even what, Vash is, but by the series’ end we’re positive he’s an otherworldly being—one who has outlived a mortal life and who possesses the god-like Angel Arm capable of destroying an entire city in a single blast. His righteous fury is terrifying enough to make a hardened murderer weep for ineligible mercy. Yet Vash always—always—chooses to be merciful and never abuses his power. He’s so committed to his ideals that he sheds tears for his enemies. His unclothed body is a patchwork of stitches, scars, and prosthetic limbs—the price he’s willingly paid to be a protector of human life.
If Vash’s story is any example, one thing’s for sure: meekness isn’t for the faint-of-heart.
In Death Note, ingenious detective L vows to catch the world’s worst mass murderer and counts no personal sacrifice too small in his quest for justice—risking his identity, his life, and his vulnerability. By episode 25, L begins to have visions that his end is at hand, and that Light—the long-sought criminal—will be the one to do the dastardly deed.
Rather than oppose Light, however, L submits himself to the renowned killer during a symbolic moment where he dries Light’s feet. Given Light’s current alibi within the task force, L knows that he can’t beat Light outright, and that the only way to win is to allow Light to grow overly-confident in victory. L’s commitment to justice makes him meek enough to sacrifice his detective’s pride—and his life—in order to give Light a false sense of security. As his life fades, L’s trump card is in place—one that will not fully execute itself until several years later: his unassuming and unknown successor, Near, who eventually catches Light off guard and convicts him. The last face Light’s dying eyes ever see is L’s—spirit-like and shrouded, but victorious.
Careful viewers will notice the anime-exclusive, Christian imagery found within Death Note’s episode 25, as L “sweats” drops of liquid, isolates himself (Garden of Gethsemane-style) and dies alongside two others—a friend and a foe. Appropriately enough, this episode is called “Silence,” a nod to Christ’s submissive silence during the trial that led to his execution.
Those anime-exclusive parallels are no accident. Many characters who radiate meekness within fiction also exhibit traits of the Christ-figure archetype. Vash literally carries a cross to his final battle and uses it to defeat his villainous brother. L utilizes his triune identity to work miracles by solving the unsolvable.
These similarities likely occur because of Christ’s pioneering of meekness. His ultimate submission to his Father’s will and His death on the cross are landmark studies of this particular virtue.
So what is at the heart of Vash and L’s actions? What is meekness?
It is vision—fully submitting to a righteous higher power (a deity, belief, ideal, or goal), so much so that no price is too great to pay, no distractions can be entertained, and most retaliations to opposition become unnecessary hindrances.
It is internal power—self-control confident enough to know it doesn’t need to showcase external strength meaninglessly.
It is Yoda, limping on his humble cane before whipping out his lightsaber to save Anakin and Obi-wan from Count Dooku. It is Erwin Smith, offering himself as titan bait in order to obtain a future where humanity is free. It is Aslan, allowing himself to be bound to the Stone Table, knowing that it’s necessary to save Narnia.
Why is meekness so scarce in the real world? I think, partially, because it’s so costly. It demands submission to a higher power, meaning that any sacrifices that the higher power demands must be fulfilled willingly. Vash’s body is bullet-holed by those less-than-grateful for his benevolence. L’s back is said to be bent beneath the weight of the world’s crimes—a bitterness that has left him unable to taste anything but sugar. Erwin loses an arm. Yoda walks with a limp. Aslan sacrifices his life.
But, ultimately, that personal cost is what makes meekness so powerful—because it allows us to zero-in on a singular concept and live for something bigger than ourselves. In other words, meekness is yoking ourselves like an ox to the plow of whatever drives us—our faith, our goals, our ideals—and pursuing an ultimate purpose.
Contrary to the rhyme, being meek isn’t weak.
It’s actually quite chic.