I had the occasion, tonight, to see my little brother Mark become just a little more defined as a man. I’m grateful that God above let me be witness to such a sad and beautiful milestone in his young life.
While staying over the night at my parent’s house, Mark and I took the dog out to pee just before going to bed. He quickly and quietly pointed out a woodpecker, to me, perched near the door, asleep. He ran to get his bb gun while explaining that mom and dad had commissioned him to kill it, should he see it.
Sidebar: have you ever seen a woodpecker? They are extraordinarily beautiful.
As he readied the gun, I stood anxiously by the window, not knowing what to expect. Me: the boy who cried the first time he caught a fish; the boy who sobbed until he shook while gutting that fish; the man who was racked with guilt when he accidentally hit his dog in the eye with a tennis ball, last week. As an older brother, how should I represent myself? The marvel of the beautiful bird stood between my morals and my mouth. Conscious decision or not, I watched my thirteen year old brother as he shot the bird and watched it fall. I watched as he turned to me in shock, his face flush, and his eyes honest. The bird flopped and it turned, trying as well as a bird might with a piece of metal lodged somewhere in its chest.
There was sadness in his young eyes, but he had not seen it yet. He shot the bird again, for good measure, and with haste reported the news to dad. After surveying the scene, dad gave Mark a high five and asked him to clean up the mess before going to bed. I stayed inside and did my best to calm the dog after all the excitement, and Mark went back out with some newspaper.
When he came back inside his flush face was now set deep into the contrast of pale and purple tones. The bird was not dead, and he hoped to have my advice on the next step. The bird, now standing, looked just as magnificent as Mark looked afraid. Showing my inability to acknowledge emotion, once more, I advised that he let the bird find a place to die on its own. Mark, reminding me of his tender age, asked, “do you think it’s in pain?”
I saw his posture before I saw his face as he slouched back inside after shooting the bird for a third time. He shook violently as the reality of the crime sunk in.
The shame of a young boy, making masculine decisions encouraged by ridiculous culture, is heart wrenching. Those eyes, those eyes that I’ve known for as long as he has, have never looked so deep and stripped of hope. How I tried to hold him and how I tried to tell him that he was right to feel pain. But what is my voice against the many who insist contrary? What is my voice against Call of Duty, MTV mutilation culture, or the senselessly homophobic male role models that will taunt him with emotionless, passionless, and sexist living until the day he dies?
As I pulled his head against my shoulder and felt his frail figure shake, I was filled with immense appreciation for a God who gave a little boy an older brother. I can’t keep him from being manipulated by this awful masculine factory, but in this moment I can hug him; in this moment I can cry with him; in this moment I can remember that I once was him. And maybe the next time he feels like he needs to throw his voice a little lower on the phone, or say something degrading amongst his friends, he’ll have this moment to fend off that ever present masculine pressure.
But most of all, maybe we can all remember that moment when we drew a line in the sand and decided that we would not be participating in killing, or insulting, or suppressing. No, it’s not as simple as it used to be. Yet, in this moment, it all seemed within reach. And God providing, I hope I turn out to be the man that Mark became today.