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Immortality According to Zack Fair} ?> I think about death. A lot. Not in a morbid, “the-end-is-near” sort of way, but with the understanding that each passing day means less time to accomplish my dreams. I’ve got half-a-dozen books to publish, a Master’s degree to complete, a world to travel, and a whole lot of video games to play (hurry up, Kingdom Hearts III!).
But more than anything, I just want to be remembered for something—even just a small something. Being forgotten amidst history’s dusty pages is the proverbial “fate worse than death.” Whether I admit it out loud or not, I want to live forever, even after my heart stops beating.
Thousands of years from now, I could completely “disappear” from public awareness. That thought used to make me wonder if my existence and actions even mattered in the first place. After all, only a lucky few ever become household names. The other millions of people born every year? History—if they’re lucky. Forgotten—if they aren’t. What chance do I have of ever becoming as recognizable as Stan Lee, as biographical as Tolkien, or even as quotable as Joss Whedon?
Perhaps that’s why I empathize so much with Zack Fair from Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. Growing up in a backwater town, Zack has dreams bigger than his small world can handle. I can’t blame him for suddenly leaving home, with only a scribbled farewell to his parents, promising that he’ll return as a hero of SOLDIER like his idol, Sephiroth.
As rambunctious as a puppy and driven by equal parts passion and prestige, Zack quickly climbs the ranks of SOLDIER, flashing his (overly) confident smile and taking on bigger, badder beasties than he can realistically handle. Perhaps the only metaphorical monster that actually intimidates Zack is the thought of falling short of his dreams.
I get it: Zack takes one look at the awe-inspiring Sephiroth and sees a man who is already immortalized in the world’s eyes. Even if Sephiroth died tomorrow, his place in history is secured as a military hero. Zack doesn’t have that kind of guarantee, and the thought of dying as a mere statistic probably terrifies him the same way it once terrified me.
One-by-one, Zack’s ambitions are put in check. His fatherly mentor, Angeal, defects from SOLDIER, forcing Zack to personally put an end to him. His idol, Sephiroth, turns villain after learning the secrets that SOLDIER kept from him. Not even a long-coveted promotion to the 1st Class rank is enough to distract Zack from his derailed dreams. “I thought I’d be happier,” he finally admits.
It’s not until Zack and his mentee, Cloud, are on the run as fugitive SOLDIERS that Zack allows for a long-overdue reflection. The words of his mentor, Angeal, come back to him: “If you want to be a hero, you need to have dreams and honour.”
Dreams, honour—eternal ideas. Even when dark times seem to snuff them out for good, these ideals are always rekindled by the human mind. If the human mind is capable of grasping something eternal, then humanity, too, must be eternal in some way. Why else would the idea of leaving a lasting legacy be so important to us—let alone even occur to us?
I don’t know exactly when Zack has this epiphany; but when he charges headlong into a fatal battle against hundreds of SOLDIERS in order to protect Cloud, he’s clearly made peace with his mortality. It’s one of the few moments in gaming history that drags a stubborn tear from my stoic eyes.
It didn’t seem fair to me (pun unintended) that Zack ends his life bullet-ridden and wincing for breath in a torrential downpour. He deserved to be remembered for his courage and selflessness, yet the world saw him as nothing more than a traitor in the end. His chance to live out his dreams and make his mark on history was gone. And yet he died smiling.
At one time, that smile might have confused me. How could a man with so many unfulfilled accomplishments have such perfect peace on his deathbed?
Perhaps because he saw another life beyond death and realized that neither he, nor his dreams, would ever disappear.
I decided to take an honest look at my own proverbial bucket list. I should take pride in what I can accomplish; I should want to leave an impact. But my ambitions—like Zack’s—weren’t initially very specific. I just wanted to be remembered, period; I didn’t consider my legacy a by-product of leading a visionary and selfless life. In other words, I had to give up using my dreams for my own self-interests and instead use them to point to something greater than myself.
Zack realized that his heroic ideals didn’t actually belong to him; he merely became a vessel for them during his lifetime, as his successor, Cloud, would after him. Zack’s legacy cemented itself in the world’s unwritten history the moment he took up the Buster Sword and allowed the ideals of a greater good to work through him.
I believe anybody can be “destined for greatness,” but only when pride takes a backseat to selflessness. What if I’m never a “somebody?” What if my dreams are cut short, and, like Zack, I end my life nearly forgotten? That’s my pride asking. Maybe I’m not meant to impact the world or have my share of historical biographies. Maybe I’m meant to be a “somebody” to one person, and maybe that one person is destined to change the world in my stead. It’s likely that person is someone I’ve overlooked because I’m already a part of their life.
Despite Zack’s cruel end, there’s justice in his heroic death. Cloud—the timid cadet who would forever remember Zack as his inspiration—manages to drag himself to Zack’s side just in time to hear Zack’s final words and inherit his Buster Sword. Real life isn’t always so convenient, though. Maybe I’ll die before I ever see the impact my life had on someone else. Maybe I’ll die before I realize even one of my dreams. Does that make my existence meaningless? Maybe. If this mortal life is all I have. But I don’t believe that’s the case.
Zack saw the eternal nature of his ideals and realized he, too, was eternal because of them. His faith in a life after death gave him the courage to sacrifice his dreams to save a friend. As Crisis Core ends, Zack’s spirit ascends into the Lifestream—Final Fantasy’s version of heaven—where his very existence becomes a part of the planet’s legacy. He lives, dies, and is reborn a hero.
As far as life is concerned, I’ve only got one shot, and I’d like to make it a good one. But if I fulfill all my mortal dreams, only to lose sight of the heavenly reality afterward, then I’ll have made history without ever showing others their own priceless immortality. When I believe that everything I do in this life will echo in eternity, then every moment of my life has the power to impact the world. I guess you could say that makes me a hero, too.