No Zombie, Not Alive, Not Quite Dead Yet

No Zombie, Not Alive, Not Quite Dead Yet April 3, 2019

I once painted air conditioners on a roof. This was a good summer job as far as pay went and I learned a good bit about the world. One thing I learned is that for some people, for some reason, some jobs were grinds.

Some of the men I worked with remain models in my memory of doing an honest days work for an honest days pay while flourishing. My Uncle Roddy was one of them, now gone to glory, and he was a brilliant singer, funny, and a good worker.

I miss him so much. He never was less than alive and now he lives in God.

There were other men, however, that the job, life, marriage, and the world had left numb. One man would just squat for hours watching me work, scraping rust off the machines, painting, while he smoked endless cigarettes. I did not mind this as I would have been paid no more or worked no less if he had not been there, but I felt bad for his stories. He was undone by injustice and everyone was unjust to him. There was no fight in him, just squatting, smoking, and stealing time for the Man.

Or so it seemed to me at the time. Eighteen is, of course, more judgmental than fifty-five, so I am no longer certain of his life, but I am certain that in my is the temptation to quit when I see the overwhelming troubles of the world. Injustice is so widespread, numbing pain so ubiquitous.

I see the temptation to smoke a cigarette against the night: not dead yet, but not quite alive. This is a new category of being to me: the not-dead. The undead, the living, we know who they are. Zombies are scary: the soul is gone, the body remains. Ghosts are scary: the soul hangs around without a body. This not-dead is not scary, just sad: not-dead, but somehow not-fully-alive.

Dante understood that at bottom evil numbs, is boring. Sin produces less active sin in the end and endless chewing over memories of old sin.

Dante stood at the bottom of Hell and in his great poem Inferno sees Satan and:

Then how faint and frozen I became,’ reader, do not ask, for I do not write it, since any words would fail to be enough. I did not die, nor did I stay alive. Imagine, if you have the wit, what I became, deprived of either state.*

Life numbs our souls with the endless, futile, reality of endless evil. This is not scary evil: being scared wakes us up. Instead, this is endless, mindless, enduring chewing on wrongs. My boss would talk endlessly about bad bosses, spouses, and the disappointments of life. It would have been more hopeful if he had cussed, ranted, or had a plan.

Over time, I saw the temptation. Whatever was true about him, when things went wrong enough, when I went wrong enough, the temptation was not-die while not-quite-living. Dante was faint in the faces of Evil without fainting, may I do more than that and escape the cold to something better.

I don’t know what happened to my boss, that’s not my story. I know that, so far, God helping me, life has conquered boredom and the cold of Hell. This is not to my credit, but because love has saved me always. The vision of the eternal beauty of God never fails: as eternal as starlight. More, like Dante I have had mentors (like his Virgil) that taken me on their backs and brought me to a better place: not heaven perhaps, but on a path to purgatory.

There pain enlivens.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.


* Dante, Inferno, Canto XXXiV Hollander translation 22ff.


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