The zombies taught me to fight.

By MELISSA RAYWORTH

Last week we watched this incredibly romantic and inspiring zombie movie.

I’m not kidding. And I can’t stop thinking about it.

The movie was called “Warm Bodies,” a 2013 release that didn’t seem to get much buzz at the time but should have. Maybe people didn’t know what to make of it: We love being able to classify things easily, and this movie mashes up three or four genres in a single story (a “paranormal romantic zombie comedy,” Wikipedia calls it). Or maybe it made people uncomfortable. It made me the best kind of uncomfortable, because it explored the notion of being not quite alive.

This is a film about people — well, former people — who are existing in that in-between space where you’re thinking and walking around, but life is really no different day after day, month after month, and you’re led by minor distractions rather than actually going somewhere meaningful. So many among us move through the world with our faces lost in our screens, distracting ourselves in a thousand ways from the jagged moments that life serves up.

I watched these “Warm Bodies” characters functioning in that alive-but-not-quite-alive way, and it was far too familiar. I’ve given away too many hours of my life to distraction and being halfway present. It gets easier all the time to seem like you’re doing something when you’re not, to be checking “news” feeds and finding out what’s going on when you’re really just ingesting the mental equivalent of junk food. Giving away the only minutes we’ll ever get doesn’t feel like some monumental choice, but that’s what it is.

In the movie, the people stuck in zombie limbo were finally able to fully be alive again only when they felt deeply — when they fell wildly in love or fought with all their strength to save someone. As I watched, it washed over me: That’s the way the world really works. When I’ve been fighting for something is when I’ve been most alive.

I’ve been struggling these past few years to understand and fight the ways that a decade of motherhood has dulled my intensity. But it’s not just the routines and the unmindful miscellany of raising kids and running a household. And it’s not just all the ways I’ve tried to create calm and peace for my kids that have sedated my inner fighter. It’s the million distractions that our world is now built around, the moments when I check Facebook to see if people are liking my latest slivers of expression instead of producing one that really means something.

The urge to run and hide in that digital space is gnawing at me right now. As I start getting to the point of this piece and getting near things that are uncomfortable, I’m having to physically stop myself from leaving this screen. Taking in someone else’s noise is so much easier and less scary than making my own, but it’s also a way of hiding.

©2007, Mark Lobo Photography, Flickr/Creative Commons

In the movie, the zombies who didn’t wake up and start fighting for something wound up completely (un)dead, never to come back. I sat there as the credits rolled, knowing that if I let myself be distracted and placated in tiny ways each day, I might as well be one of them.

So I’ve just added an appointment on my calendar at 6 a.m. every day that says, simply, in all caps: WHAT WILL YOU FIGHT FOR TODAY?

And I’ve added an appointment on my calendar at 9 p.m. every day that says, simply: WHAT DID YOU FIGHT FOR TODAY?

If the answer is nothing, then I’m going to stare at that appointment on the screen, slightly sickened, and allow the feeling to wash over me and propel me f0rward. Because time moves obscenely fast, and I am not going to let myself run and hide in the world of digital distractions.

Maybe we’re all zombies, just a little bit. But if that’s true, I want to be one of the ones who wakes up before the movie ends.

Also published at Sharpen Your Edge, January 2016

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Melissa Rayworth is a freelance writer and editor who explores the building blocks of modern life, including parenting and marriage, the myths and realities of modern suburbia, work/life balance and beauty/body image issues. She writes frequently for The Associated Press and TakePart.com, and has written for numerous clients including Salon and Babble. She has contributed to several anthologies, including the SmartPop book series. Her latest project can be found at Sharpen Your Edge, and she tweets at@mrayworth. Melissa currently splits her time between Pittsburgh, New York and Bangkok.

©2016, Melissa Rayworth