There’s just something about a good zombie show that forces me to think more deeply about culture, life, death and what we will do to survive. I cannot watch one of these shows without thinking of St. Irenaeus of Lyon who taught that a human being “fully alive” is “the glory of God.” Zombies remind me that being fully alive has to mean something more than shuffling through life uncritically, unaffected by what is happening around me, mechanically pursuing my own appetites at the expense of my neighbor. The classic zombie movie, Dawn of the Dead, effectively employed the metaphor of a shopping mall besieged by the undead as a way of reminding us that absorption into a purely consumerist culture is evidence of being something other than fully alive. What we seek for true life cannot be purchased at the mall.
It’s not the gore and violence in the genre that appeals to me—some directors are so over-the-top with grisly special-effects that they obscure the deeper issues at stake. What does it mean to be alive? AMC’s The Walking Dead is a show with excellent storytelling that embraces the requisite gruesomeness without making killing zombies the point of the show.
A recent episode had characters wondering if “an echo” of the person’s memory and identity might be trapped within the mind of a zombie, that he or she still has some consciousness in there somewhere. It set me to thinking about all the people I’ve loved who had Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Was there something of my grandfather still in that shell of his body when he no longer recognized his own name?
I love the concept of “an echo” because I get the sense that sometimes I hear an echo of who I once was rambling around in my head. The adolescent, inappropriate, silly, insecure self of long ago makes his voice heard in my head and I have to remember that he will always be a part of my life, but he doesn’t get to control my life.
The notion of an echo reminded of the funeral poem Afterglow that makes me wonder how my spirit will echo around for a while after I’m dead.
I’d like the memory of me
to be a happy one.
I’d like to leave an afterglow
of smiles when life is done,
I’d like to leave an echo
whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing
times and bright and
I’d like the tears of those who
grieve, to dry before the sun,
Of happy memories that I leave
When life is done.
~Helen Lowrie Marshall
(From her book of poetry, Close to the Heart )
Of course the trick is to be fully alive while you are still breathing so that there can be something to echo after your gone. Live well my friends, there is a lot of life to be enjoyed.