It’s a few days into 2014. So, naturally, it would make sense that I can think about just one thing.
Taking a brief hiatus from Jon Pascal’s inspirational thoughts, zombies seem a worthwhile diversion. If you’ve been paying any sort of attention to pop culture at all, you know that zombies are a big thing these days. From “The Walking Dead” to World War Z to Zombie Runs, it’s clear that we as a culture are in love with the undead. Social commentators have come up with a host of theories as to why this is so. One writer posits that it’s our subconscious fear of overpopulation that brings our interest. Another commentator claims it’s a sense of alienation and dissociation with those around us that drives this zombie obsession – it gives us an allegory for being surrounded by unthinking, shuffling, groaning humanoids that are at once very much like us and yet totally inaccessible. A third opinion is that zombies represent the greed and materialism of our current age – they personify creatures who only comprehend the barest sensory input and are motivated only by the basest hunger.
But, I have my own opinion, and it has nothing to do with the zombies themselves. It has everything to do with survival. The attractive thing about shows like Walking Dead is that we get to vicariously speculate about how we would fare. Normal people, with a scarcity of resources, thrust into a fight for survival. Zombies are, at best, a plot device that allows the struggle for survival to become more or less urgent.
For most of human history, our day consisted of finding and securing food and water, protecting against the elements, preparing for hostile interactions with other humans, etc. All these things were quite literally a matter of life and death. The vast majority of those reading this have never seriously had to worry about any of these things. When we don’t have a reason to take seriously the possibility of death, we lose some of what it means to experience life.
That’s one of the things that excites people about self-defense training at Krav Maga Maryland. Before they train, they have never seriously considered that someone might commit an act of violence against them – a home invasion, a carjacking, a sexual assault, a gang-initiation shooting. But the authenticity of our training captures this consideration without even trying. And it connects people with their God-given desire for survival. We endeavor to create a place that is risky enough to go there mentally, emotionally, and physically. Yet that same place is safe enough to take the time and effort to really prepare for such an eventuality.
And say what you want about CrossFit. They have done the very best job connecting one’s potential survival to their pursuit of fitness for mainstream accessibility. That is part of what people are, for better or worse, so rabidly devoted to. A part of them comes alive in the struggle that has been dormant for too long.
What does this have to do with the New Year? Many folks have the sense that they are doing nothing but taking up space, biding their time, waiting for something significant to happen to them. Holidays like New Year’s Eve are a time when we are confronted with the value of our actions, with the gravity of our choices. It is a time when the possibility of catastrophically poor choices and triumphantly powerful good choices sits a little closer to the surface. The connection between our mortality and the quality of our lives can’t so easily be drowned out by the next thing we buy, the next movie we watch, the next noisy thing we listen to.
Eastern Orthodox monks will often regularly spend time at the graves of their fellow monastics that have perished. They seek to drastically increase humility, compassion, and urgency in doing good by the contemplation of their own mortality. Most of us do everything we can to avoid consistent consideration of our own transience. Yet we are subconsciously attracted to activities that highlight that same fragility.
We are at our best when we are motivated by struggle. We must be vigilant against the recent tendency to contrive false struggles in hopes of avoiding the real ones. Perhaps the value of goals, whether New Year’s resolutions or otherwise, is that they connect us with a struggle that is essential for our happiness and excellence. They remind us that we need struggle, and that sometimes the attainment of the goal isn’t the point, but rather having a direction toward which to struggle is what we really need.
What are you struggling towards? How is it bringing out a better side of you simply by engaging in the struggle? Are there any struggles you’re avoiding because the goal seems unattainable? Have you considered that the struggle might be more valuable than the goal itself?