Warriors at the Crossroads: a personal essay

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If I were playing World of Warcraft right now, I know where I’d be.  I’d be atop a mountain in the Barrens, just west of the Crossroads, at a place called the Shrine of the Fallen Warrior.

As a loyal member of the Horde, I know its story.  I’ve been there to pay my respects.  The Shrine honors a young man who left behind a twin brother when he died, and I remember thinking how sad it must be to lose a sibling.

Of course I didn’t know one day it would happen to me…

ah bThe Shrine of the Fallen Warrior.

Dec 2, 2013, will mark the second anniversary of my sister’s death.  I could not speak at her funeral.  Since then, I’ve been unable to write about her.  It was too much.  It frustrated me.  Being a writer, I should have been able to write, but I couldn’t.  What do you say, after all?  How do you explain a loss like that?  Where do you even begin?

In the past couple weeks, a series of peculiar circumstances led me to the real Fallen Warrior, or rather, to his surviving brother.  René Koiter wrote a remarkably uplifting tribute to his brother Michel, and when I read it, the similarities to my sister were striking.  It spurred me on.  Finally, I had something to write.

G dirt 72 2Digging a fort with spoons.

Like Michel Koiter, Greta Block was a graphic artist.  While she and I were not a team like the Koiter brothers, we did our share of creating together.  I wrote silly little stories and she’d draw illustrations.  We made mud pies and dug in the dirt.  We built houses with Legos and Tinker Toys and spent endless hours making doll furniture and tiny animals from cornstarch-and-salt clay.  We made our own Halloween costumes.  We even designed our own video games – very simple ones! – using Basic.  (That was a looong time ago!)

G pottery 2Greta leaning on the bar, waiting for her turn at the pottery wheel.

In the memoriam, René lists his brother as his hero.  I feel the same about Greta.  She developed diabetes as a young teenager, and eventually her kidneys failed.  Dialysis is harsh.  It takes a lot out of you.  Greta could no longer work, but when she felt up to it, she drew and painted and crafted all sorts of beautiful things.  She sent us handmade birthday cards, painted gorgeous portraits, and made all manner of imaginative goodies.  Her body may have fallen apart, but her artist’s mind never stopped.

In 2009, after undergoing a long list of tests to prove she was healthy enough, Greta received a kidney and pancreas transplant.  For a week or two, everything was great.  Then everything went wrong.  Side effects, rejection, a virus, fevers… Greta was in and out of the hospital for months, getting progressively sicker, until the doctors decided they had to remove the transplanted organs.  Even after the surgery, she was sick for a long time.  And then she became my hero: she decided she wanted to try again.  Even after all she’d been through, she wanted to go back on the transplant list and try a second time.  But she had to wait till she was well enough to go through all the tests again.

In November 2011, Greta got news of her approval.  She was healthy enough to try another transplant.  Then one night in December, less than a month later, she went to sleep and never woke up again.

As with Michel Koiter, doctors never found a definitive reason for Greta’s death, either.  They could not pinpoint a specific cause.  All the tests they’d done for her to get on the transplant list showed her to be healthy.  An autopsy and toxicology tests showed nothing in particular wrong.  All the doctors could say was ‘complications from diabetes’.

G table 2Greta making her ‘leftovers’ table.

Not knowing why someone dies is hard, but I think it’s harder on artists.  Artists create.  Death is the antithesis of creation.  We can’t just accept it.  We want to make pictures, places, stories, reasons; a way to understand the world.  Death takes that away.

Even when she was sick, Greta found time to draw.  It might only have been doodles in the margin of her hospital menu, but she drew.  Always an artist.  Nothing stopped her from being what she was.  She truly was a warrior, and a hero, too.  As for me, I’ve let too many things stand in the way of my writing.  Too many distractions, too many excuses not to do it.  But she didn’t give in.  The threat of destruction didn’t keep her from constructing new ideas and new projects.

G halloween 2One of our legendary Halloween costumes.

Placing the Shrine so close to the Crossroads had to be deliberate on the part of WoW’s designers.  The death of a sibling leaves you at the Crossroads, for sure.  Losing someone that close – especially for artists – gives you a choice.  You can give in to destruction and fall right along with the warrior, or you can learn how to stand again and go on.  You can become a warrior yourself, fighting to create in a world that falls apart much too easily.

G selfie 2Greta’s self portrait.

I don’t know René Koiter, although I’ve seen his artwork many, many times through World of Warcraft and its concomitant websites.  A couple week ago, he posted a video of his outstanding Halloween cosplay, and what I saw was an artist creating a character and doing it “with both hands”, to quote Chris Metzen.  Maybe that’s what we’re meant to learn from our Fallen Warriors.  Warriors don’t always kill.  Warriors can create, too.  They can fight to keep the spirit alive and push past loss to build greater things.  In a sense, art is a way to spit in the eye of death and say, “Nope.  You’re not gonna defeat me.  As long as I’m here, I will continue to create.”

If I were playing WoW right now, I’d catch a flight to the Crossroads and climb up the mountain to visit the Shrine.  I need it to remember how to fight.

Greta was always a little braver, a little bolder than I was – a little more willing to show her work to people and to talk to them.  Even though she was younger than I, she did much more with her art than I have with mine.  I have a long way to go to catch up with her.  I have to push myself.  It’s too easy to give in to the inevitable destruction, too hard to remember that creating is the only thing that keeps us alive.

It’s hard.  But now I know the Fallen Warrior watches over me at my Crossroads, whispering to me:

Be braver.

Be bolder.

Be a warrior of creation.

“Because some things are just worth fighting for.”

G bw 71I’m gonna give you a hug whether you like it or not.  With both hands.

===

Screenshot of the Shrine of the Fallen Warrior was taken from Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. 

Thanks to my parents for letting me borrow their picture albums. 

And thanks to René Koiter for his “In Memoriam – Michel Koiter” essay on the Sons of the Storm website, and for the push I needed to write my own story.  “In Memoriam” is available at http://sonsofthestorm.com/memorial_twincruiser.html.

Originally published at http://libbyblockblog.wordpress.com/warriors-at-the-crossroads/ .

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