“If the Architect does indeed exist, I wish I could ask him… who am I, truly? Whence did I come? Whither am I headed?” – Jin, Xenoblade Chronicles 2
While I usually tend to write about interesting hypothetical legal issues with respect to estates, trusts and family law, I wanted to take today as an opportunity to write a more personal blog post and share a bit about my own life and its connection to the career path that I have chosen. I feel this way because this week marks the one-year anniversary of me working as an associate in Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP’s Private Client Services group. It really has been a wonderful year with my colleagues, and I’ve learned so much about the law in this area.
When I think about where I was a year ago vs. where I am today, I think not only of how much I’ve learned, but more so of what I was experiencing then in relation to what I’m experiencing now. At around this time last year, it became increasingly, troublingly apparent to me that my grandmother was developing some form of dementia. Her speech was becoming less comprehensible, she became more susceptible to falling and injuring herself, and as is not uncommon, she was losing her memory and other cognitive abilities. It’s worth noting that after a pair of strokes she experienced in 2017, she was no longer able to speak English; she reverted back to Greek, her mother tongue.
Witnessing my grandmother’s descent was particularly emotional and disconcerting for me, as I have been close to her my entire life.
It was also at around this time last year that I had finished playing what is now one of my favourite video games of all time: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 for the Nintendo Switch. Although it’s a sequel to the original Xenoblade Chronicles for the Nintendo Wii, it really is a standalone game with a story that’s only slightly dependent on that of its predecessor.
As I spent around 100 hours to complete Xenoblade Chronicles 2, I think that its entire plot may be a bit too robust to explain in one blog post. What I will say is that the game takes place in Alrest, a world where there are two main species: humans and Blades. While humans require no explanation, Blades are beings with great power who appear to have been created to, in essence, serve humans but also keep humans in check. Certain humans can become Drivers, who can “wield” Blades by activating them from their dormant forms known as Core Crystals. A Blade is fundamentally immortal: they live as long as their Driver is alive. Once their Driver dies, they revert back to their original Core Crystal form. A Blade can come back to life if they are re-summoned from their Core Crystal by a different Driver; tragically, however, upon being re-summoned by a new Driver, such Blade loses all of their memories from the time spent with their previous Driver. Of course, just like humans in the real world, humans in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 do not have the same ability to come back to life.
Let me focus not on the protagonists of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but instead on one of its primary antagonists: Jin.
Jin was a Blade, and developed a deep bond with his Driver, Lora. Unfortunately, as a result of human-propelled conflicts, Lora became mortally wounded in the midst of a war. In order to preserve her memories, Jin became a Flesh Eater: when a Blade eats a part of a human, they are able to retain their memories and live on without needing a Driver, but lose their immortality. Lora tells Jin that for humans, being forgotten is a fate worse than death, and this motivates Jin to become a Flesh Eater so that he can live on and remember her.
Traumatized after the death of Lora, Jin becomes nihilistic. He bears hatred for humanity for taking her away from him, and also feels a deep sense of existential turmoil at what he perceives to be the miserable existence of Blades, who can only live to serve humans but cannot even retain the memories that they share with their Drivers.
Jin harbors a deep resentment of the Architect, who is understood to be the creator of humans and Blades. This sets the stage for Jin creating his own life’s purpose: he makes it his goal to kill the Architect and thereafter destroy humanity. Although nobody knows if the Architect actually (still) exists, it is fabled that he lives atop the World Tree, which is guarded by fierce monsters, in the center of Alrest.
However, perhaps even more than wanting to destroy humanity, Jin wants to meet the Architect because he questions his own existence. Jin not only wants to confront the Architect to punish him for creating humans and Blades in the way that he did, but also, perhaps more critically, to discover why the Architect created humans and Blades in the way that he did.
It is with this facet of Jin’s motivations that I myself can relate, not only with respect to my own existence but also with the diminishing existence of my grandmother. Why do people age? Why do they lose their bodily functions, cognitive abilities and, most tragically, their memories in such excruciating ways? Why can’t the process from life to death be the same for everyone? Why can’t the process from life to death be pleasant for everyone? Why do life and death exist in the first place?
I sympathize with Jin because the deep love he has for Lora reminds me of the deep love I have for my grandmother, and I feel that it is human (and perhaps Blade) nature to ask these questions in the face of great loss.
I would be lying if I said that seeing my grandmother in her declining state didn’t make me a bit resentful for what we understand to be the human experience. And of course, these questions are not only existential in nature, but religious as well. That’s what makes them difficult questions, as well as questions for which we may never have an answer: after all, there are perhaps hundreds or thousands of different belief systems in our world, but, at some level, only one commonly-understood reality. For example, I note that, while doing research for another blog post that I co-wrote, I learned that even our most talented neuroscientists have not even begun to understand what consciousness actually is.
Yet, when we are experiencing tragedy or trauma, it’s easy to focus on the bad things in life and to curse our own existence, miserable, wretched or otherwise. But, true strength comes from the ability to accept the premise of never having answers to these questions, and to create our own purpose in life in spite of the limitations that our biology has placed on us.
I mention all of this because death and incapacity is inherently a part of what I do for a living. My job as an estate planning lawyer is to be a source of comfort and knowledge for those who start to ask themselves these very questions. I simply cannot sit with my clients and agonize over these questions with them; I must instead work within our reality to achieve the best outcomes for my clients and their loved ones, and do so while using the things I know about this world: one that simultaneously exists as something humans created, but also as something that was created for humans.
In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Jin dies before he is able to meet the Architect. I note that the game’s protagonists also have the goal of meeting the Architect, and are successful in doing so. Their motivations, of course, differ from Jin’s: they want to save humanity, not destroy it. Alrest is a dying world; humans and Blades live on massive living ecosystems called Titans, but the Titans are also showing signs of deterioration. Without getting into all the details, Jin eventually overcomes his nihilism and helps the protagonists reach their goal, and by the end of the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Alrest is reborn as a place in which humans and Blades can continue living.
Saving the world isn’t the protagonists’ only goal. They too wish to ask the Architect why he created them in the way that he did. So, what happens when the protagonists actually meet the Architect? Well…maybe I’ll save that for another blog post.
My grandmother is still walking, talking, breathing and eating independently. She lives in a long-term care facility, and I speak to her 2-3 times a day. I’m grateful to my Fasken colleagues, and Audrey Miller, an author for this blog, for helping to guide me through the process of helping her. I now no longer feel an intense need to ask the existential questions I once felt; I simply believe in the premise of life, death and rebirth, even if such rebirth may take place without the memories once had. I work within that belief system through my own prayers and meditation. Yet, I still also find myself listening to the soundtrack for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Some of those songs make for really great will-drafting music.