There is much in the world that horrifies.
Many people consciously seek out those things that frighten them most. It can be cathartic to face down these fears in order to work out the wrinkles in our emotional fabric. Witness the accelerated enthusiasm of late for the horror genre.
Still the most horrifying things are those outside the realm of fiction and film.
I know that in Japan there is a reverence for the elderly. This Asian culture relies on a deep and abiding respect for the mature and the aged. Not so much here in the west.
I know any number of older people — energetic, vital, personable people — who have told me time and again that when they walk down the street they are invisible. People look right through them as though they didn’t exist. In the busy-ness of my own day, I have been guilty of this as well.
The same is especially true of the homeless and indigent who humbly implore us for help. Or food. Or work. Even a bit of acknowledgement or recognition. We have become quite practiced at avoiding these animated walkers, shufflers and stumblers — the breathing dead.
Many years back, my daughter was being annoyed at school by a boy who simply wouldn’t leave her alone. When she asked for my advice, I told her to ignore him. She said that wouldn’t work because he never stopped. And then I told her something I probably shouldn’t have.
“Sweetheart, there’s something you need to know about boys — and men, for that matter. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more humiliating and soul-crushing than to be utterly and completely ignored. Trust me, this boy is pestering you to get a reaction. Deny him that reaction, and there’s no payoff. No payoff, he’ll go elsewhere and annoy someone else.”
She took the advice to heart and it worked. She can be a fine actress and she simply behaved as though he truly was completely invisible. She looked right through him. Cut him off mid-sentence to laugh and talk with her friends. Total and complete blackout. The kid ended up feeling so foolish he avoided her for the rest of his school life.
The problem — once we realize we actually have the ability to make people invisible, it opens the door to abuse.
The saddest part is that we all possess the power to deny another human being the precious acknowledgement that they exist. As a socially-dependent culture, this crucial connection to other human beings is a lifeline. This fearsome power we hold over others is abused all too often.
The sluggish, dispirited shuffle of a homeless person reaching out to us on the street can feel zombie-ish and may be one of the reasons zombie films have become so outrageously popular in the last 40 years. Our secret, subliminal wish to do away with this broadly expanding portion of the populace could easily have manifested itself in a fever to erase a similarly unattractive group of creatures in horror stories and film.
Have we really become so disconnected with our fellow beings that our blank stares and dismissive behavior of them has turned us into some of the walking dead as well?
As we navigate our lives in the world each day, there are heartbeats and heartbreaks moving among us. A simple and inexpensive antidote to this epidemic of apathy is a bit of a smile to a face that clearly needs it. Lest we forget that the smile we force for another originates on a face that likely needs it most.
Zombies are real enough. I see them everywhere. And the best way to end the epidemic is to kill them with kindness.
I have always found genuine humanity to be quite infectious.