Among my many lesser interests is the question of zombies and the undead. While I am not the biggest fan of zombies, I am occasionally fond in reflecting on the ways in which zombies can help teach us lessons about life and literature. For example, I have in my personal library (and gave an additional copy to a friend), a book called Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, which takes Jane Austen’s masterpiece and expands it with zombies, without cutting out any original material. One of the strengths of the novel is that it gives Charlotte Lucas a reason aside from the disinterested motive of seeking a better life than spinsterhood for marrying the odious Mr. Collins, in having her be infected gradually by the zombie disease and looking for an honorable end to her life.
There are ways in which zombies can be more than merely vehicles for action films about our fears of death and being undead, though, and I would like to talk at least a little bit about one of the insights I have gained in my own life as a result of a slight to moderate interest in zombie flicks. Today, while driving home after the “afterparty” for a graduation for a couple of teens in the local congregation, I got to chat with someone who is related to one of the largest families who I constantly seem to interact with or think about over the course of my life here in the Portland area, I had a flash of insight about a way that zombies are relevant to my own life, and perhaps to the lives of others who are not so unlike me.
There are many times in life that we might think that problems are over and done with, dead and gone, only to find that they have gone dormant and will return again in the proper circumstances if their root causes have not been dealt with. I know in my life that I have thought that I simply outgrew problems only to find that in the right/wrong circumstances those problems would appear again without warning and with a great many consequences. All too often we are lulled into a sense of complacency in the thought that all is well with our lives until we are forced to confront something we thought was over and done a long time ago but has now arisen in a more virulent and more dangerous situation that bodes poorly for us, regardless of a lack of evil intentions. At other times, we lurch from crisis to crisis so haphazardly that we gain little sense of the greater context our lives are fitting into until we see ourselves falling into the same bad patterns over and over again.
Whatever the particular narrative of our lives, there are cases where zombies are an appropriate metaphor to the problems that we have to face. The personality flaws, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, addictions, and other problems of people are all too often zombies. They are parts of ourselves that we would like to bury for good, but that keep on coming back over and over again because of the difficulties in wrestling with and overcoming the deepest parts of ourselves. Those problems remind us that we cannot simply ignore the difficulties of our lives when things appear to be going better, because they are entrances into dark caverns of our mind and heart that will simply get worse and more complicated with time if we leave them alone without resolving the deeper matters they portend. Our problems do not die unless we kill them, taking a great deal of time and effort to do so. Most of the time, when things are going well, our problems are merely undead, awaiting their next revival, unless we are willing to undergo painful self-reflection and the great effort of overcoming that believers are called to do.