I saw a zombie driving to work this morning.
Okay, I guess I shouldn't start off like that - tends to confuse some people. Some people will wonder who was driving, me or the zombie. Others will conjecture if the zombie was the walking dead or someone under a voodoo spell. Please, let me clarify. This morning, as I was driving to work, I saw one of the undead driving on the freeway. She drove with her head tilted waaaaay back in her chair, her mouth wide open and unmoving. None of her moved. Her skin, like well-worn leather, pulled taut, would have betrayed any movement at all.
She just drove along.
She must have died old; her hair was that of an old person.
I hadn't had an hallucination like this in a very long time, not this vivid. Oh, sure. It could have been someone dressed as the undead... but I prefer to think of it as an hallucination. (Tim Clostio would probably ask, just about now, how I knew it was really one of the undead driving a Volkswagon. Tim, stop that.) Hallucinations can be very useful. They can be enlightening. Some of our best heroes and writers have had them.
I watched the zombie merge onto the 405 south (probably heading to the airport) and wondered about the death I was surrounded by. I must be, after all, to encounter it on the freeway on the way to work. What death? I'm rewriting Everything Changes, killing my first play. That play no longer exists. I, myself, am dying, watching my solitary self die as Vicky takes a more prominent place in my life. My days of Chloe, my old dog, are dying off as Suki, Vicky's dog, takes a larger role in my life. Soon, my apartment will die when I move. Death. Everywhere. You want more? My hair is graying - death. The tires on my car need replacing - death. Summer ends soon - death. It's everywhere - and there's no stopping it.
How many of you have already begun scoffing at the notion? How many of you have said, in one way or another, "Sure, Ken, but you're not dead... those examples aren't really death?"
Do you think so? Play along for just another minute, anyway.
There are many kinds of death. How many of us have had our car "die" on us? Or had a phone line "dead"? Even when a pet dies, we see it as death, no matter how much we try to tell ourselves that it isn't, that's it's less important, that it won't affect us. We go on. We go on. We go on. But we are constantly surrounded by death.
So, why aren't I upset by this? Why aren't we always confronted by this grim reality? Because people possess a remarkable capacity for hope. Even the most cynical of us see it every day - we know that life is an incredible force and, just as sure as the finale of a Gospel, life trumps death. Even as my hair grays, and my youthful nature dies, a more mature Ken La Salle is born. As the old Everything Changes dies, a new, hopefully better one, is born. My solitary self is shucked off like a old shell to reveal a more fulfilled self with Vicky. Chloe is the fond memory that brings about the life of a new relationship with Suki. The death of my old dwelling brings to life a new - again, hopefully better - one. New tires are put on my car. A new Autumn (no, not you, Autumn) is born. Life may not spring eternal but, for our purposes at least, it has quite a libido.
Maybe that's why it's so tempting to believe in reincarnation, because we see it all around us. We see the flowers grow in the cemetery. We see animal life perpetuate and perpetuate and, well, perpetuate. There must be a life after death... right? It would give our life meaning, wouldn't it? And if there's one thing people crave, it's meaning. We look for it all around us. People tell me, "You and Rosa split up because you were meant to be with Vicky." They say, "You had to lose everything in order to appreciate what you have."
But just as surely as people look for life after death, people need that meaning to counteract the meaningless that also exists.
Let's face it, the life that we see following death is not meaningful on a personal level. The life of someone you knew is not continued in any meaningful way. The tree you see growing at their grave does not continue their consciousness. The fish that their body feeds when you bury them at sea do not eat their hopes, only their flesh. People need that life after death because they need a continuation of themselves. And it's a tough pill to swallow to think that, at best, you'll be feeding something NOT at the bottom of the food chain. The interesting thing about reincarnation is that, for the most part, the originators of this belief got it right. They weren't as caught up in personal continuation as we are. They saw that a man who dies is reborn within the soil, within the worm, within the bird, within lion, and within, finally, the person. So, we counteract that with the idea of a soul - a soul that must go on - a soul we believe in, clingingly, in the hopes that such a thing exists, though we know it's a long shot at best. We crave a soul because we crave meaning. We refuse to face the meaningless.
Do you have to lose everything to appreciate what you have? Some do. Some don't. Prescribing to meaning is like prescribing to a proverb or maxim. Does an apple a day keep the doctor away? Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. Is a bird in the hand worth two in the bush? Sadly, nobody has a clue!
The unbearable truth, to many people, is that there is no personal meaning to events, just as death brings life but not a continuation to that thing's life. The ultimate meaning to things is beyond our feeble comprehension. So, then, how is it that things look so clearly to us as having meaning? They appear so clearly because we are the ones to prescribe such meaning. We look at our lives and say, "Oh, so that's why that happened." or "That's what that means." It must be true because it is so clear.
But just as life follows death and meaning follows meaninglessness - and just as one is only related to the other in the most peripheral way - so, too, must understanding follow ignorance. We don't have to admit the truth and, in fact, most people do just fine without it. But Buddha had to die to ignorance and so did Jesus. Buddha became enlightened to the truth and Jesus was born again to it. And if we are going to claim that these are people worth emulating (What would Jesus do?), shouldn't we, too, eschew our tendency to comfortable ignorance and embrace the uncomfortable?
What's wrong with death being the end? What harm could meaninglessness bring us? The finality of death brings meaning to our days. The incomprehensible drives us to learn. And sometimes we have to admit that what is simply is. Vicky is in my life, not because of God's will or fate or karma or any universal lottery. Vicky is in my life because this is the time for her to be in my life. She won't be for long. I could lose her tomorrow. I could lose her in 60 years. The point is not to prescribe meaning or insist the endings never come but to embrace both my lack of comprehension as to how I could be so fortunate and the knowledge that I won't be one day and to live each day fulfilled. I don't need to know why and I don't need it forever. It is what it is. These moments are eternal and to say that we, as two people in love, need more meaning than that, is a joke.
And this is how I live my life... and for those of you who say it must be rather sterile or dull... I got to see one of the undead drive a Volkswagon...