There is a Billy Collins poem (which can be seen here, messily, if you scroll down until you see lots of italics: http://meandbillymcgee.blogspot.com/p/my-essay.html ) which proposes that everyone goes where they believed they would go, post-death: “you go the to place you always thought you would go / the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.” I always remembered those lines, if not verbatim than in sentiment, and would occasionally think to myself “well I’d better think up something good.”
I attended a seminar on active shooters in the workplace recently and it was as bleak as one would expect. Run, hide, or fight. The first two were obvious; the last, a recent development to national protocol post-Sandy Hook. Now we’re telling you to fight, the policeman said. “But won’t we get shot?” asked the audience. “Some of you will, yes, but at least it won’t be all of you,” was his grim answer. We gulped and nodded.
The presentation was full of photographs of practical applications of common office objects intended to keep us alive a little longer. Desks piled against doors. Fire extinguishers hoisted into the air in ambush. Feet pressed against the base of the door, in push-up position, body kept low to avoid the spray of bullets from an angry shooter unable to gain entry in the traditional fashion.
One of the objects the pictures kept returning to were belts. Belts wound around the compression mechanisms in the tops of doors to make them shut smoothly and silently–or in this case, to shut and not open again. Belts looped around door handles and then hauled hard to the side, gripped tight by a panicky hand, again to avoid the spray of angry bullets but also to hold shut a door without a lock.
Seeing these, I thought of Billy Collins’ poem, and of the common representation of souls in video games ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PWC6vUext0 ) as nebulous floating ribbons, twisting up through trees or fingers to the sky, to dissipate. And I thought, I would want to be a ribbon of force. Winding my way into the muscle of an imperiled climber about to lose grip and tumble a climber over a cliff–I would hold the fibers tight. Ingraining myself in the leather of a belt flung over a door handle as a blank-faced idiot with a gun tries to force his way into a classroom to pulp everyone inside. I would make the belt hold.
I thought of my dissatisfaction with zombies as objects of horror–what I find so unfulfilling is their rendering into mere blindly antagonistic meat the lives we spent so much time and effort living. At least ghosts in stories have a purpose. An intent. I am much more concerned with the purpose and intent of my life than the meat I wear through it, recent renaissance of physical activity notwithstanding.
Forget the meat, then. Forget the limbs or the letters or the financial bequest I could send somewhere. I would be a ribbon to hold someone together when they needed it most. That would be something worth doing.