Thursday, May 9, 2013

stayin' alive

Here in the United States, there is a popular television series called "The Walking Dead." The show, as I understand it from my kids, revolves around a group of human beings trying to elude an endless supply of walking dead people intent on eating the brains of those who do not yet qualify as dead.

Since these dead people have arisen from the grave, the series is a make-up artist's wet dream: Each famished and determined dead person looks scarier than the next. I don't watch the show because scary stuff scares me and there's enough on-the-ground scary stuff in life to satisfy my need to be scared.

Nevertheless, "The Walking Dead," tickles my ivories, not least because if the dead really did arise from the grave and were really that hungry, they'd be out of food in short order ... the dead, after all, are in the no-doubt-about-it majority.

The walking dead on TV have got what are sometimes referred to in sissy-speak as "issues." What was once alive is now dead and is clearly not happy about it. They want to kill everyone who is still alive, perhaps as a means of showing the living how unpleasant it is to be mired in the "issues" they face. Even the dead seem to want agreement from others.

What was alive is now dead and the dead demand their pound of flesh from out of a world that is not entirely dead and yet is not living in any satisfactory way either. The past reaches up out of the grave and infuses the present.

It can be scary all right.

How many adventures in life, to a greater or lesser extent, are like this -- starting out all bright-eyed-and-bushy tailed and then slowly, slowly asserting a gnawing, suffocating reality that was not at all what was planned in the first place. Bright promise turns subtly or overwhelmingly to an entrapment every bit as horrific as a make-up artist's imagination. Death, disease, drugs, divorce, marriage, the new job, the 'perfect' friend, spiritual life, delight ... start anywhere.

Anyone might do their best to elude the sense of stale and threatening -- laying on one reassuring Band-Aid after another -- but at best it comes up as an 'adult' compromise. How often is the word 'adult' used to paper over a pretty scary sense of being one of the walking dead ... of being the horror show anyone might seek to avoid?

Yesterday, I stuck my oar into a conversation that was redolent with the walking dead. It concerned the phony-baloney-dom of being a copy cat ... of joining with a group that was then allowed to define and defend the participant. And the thought that entered my mind was, "How can anyone find out s/he is not a copy cat without first being a copy cat?"

Bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed, I join a group that applauds something I too wish to applaud. It is warming to be in a group with a goal that I find worthy. I am supported and perhaps raised up. I work hard and learn. I too love to applaud. I am a Buddhist or Christian or stock broker or mother or father or yo-yo champion ... just like the people around me, just like the wise expositors of my chosen faith. Where doubts arise, I set them aside or explain them away or do whatever is necessary to maintain my part in a worthy and warming atmosphere.

But sometimes the koan will not shut its trap. Not the koan in a book or philosophy, but right there in the bathroom mirror: I am being strangled by what I adore. To a greater or lesser extent, I am the ghoul I have worked so hard to avoid being. What was once living has in some measure died and now it has risen up out of the grave to eat my brain. All the sissy-speak in the world cannot hold things at bay any longer. "Everything is a compromise" and other "adult" observations simply don't fill the bill. I've done sissy-speak for too long, pretending I could outflank life by being intelligent enough or caring enough ... you know the routine.

Where is the aliveness? Where is the one who is not some potential ghoul constantly papering things over with "adult" explanations? Where is the god that the copy-cat god-mongers can spread on life like Vaseline on a thermometer? Where is the life without make-up artists? Where is the one who is no longer a copy cat?

This entire line of thinking can be pretty womb-gloom-tomb ... dumbing and numbing as an adult cow in a Chicago slaughter chute. Plod, plod, plod ... yes, a bright spot here and there, but still ... sissy speak is so sissy, somehow.

The bright spot, the one that beckons, is of course that however ghoulish and confusing things become, still the down-home fact is that the one who experiences such things is alive -- completely unfettered and alive. This is no philosophical or religious Tinker Toy. There is precisely nothing copy-cat about it. Every ghoul, like every 'living' being, is deeply and precisely informed by this aliveness and it is this aliveness that anyone might seek out using copy-cat methods.

The copy-cat may sweat and strain and bob and weave and camouflage and reveal ... but the fact remains ... what's the point of wanting to be alive when you are already alive? Alive as a copy-cat ... but no longer a copy cat ... just alive. Alive as a ghoul, but no longer a ghoul ... just alive. Alive as a spiritual wand-waver or mother or father or stock broker or yo-yo champ, but no longer a  spiritual wand-waver or mother or father or stock broker or yo-yo champ ... just alive. Alive and applauding; alive and weeping ... just alive.

How much TV can anyone watch? The answer is quite a lot, of course. My feeling is, knock yourself out! Scare the pants off yourself or drench yourself in vast compassionate story-telling. Give it a whirl. Hang out with the adults. Group-hug fellow copy-cats and yet don't ever think that anyone else is a copy cat. Buy as many Band-Aids as you like ... who knows, they may yet hold things together ... not.

When was the last time "alive" held anything together?


  1. Embarrassing but I have to admit watching The Walking Dead, absurd as it is.

    I liked your post so much I made a small donation. Keep up the good work. :P

  2. Thank you very much, anonymous. I appreciate your kindness.

    On your recommendation, perhaps I will watch "The Walking Dead" ...

    In another lifetime. :p