He Cried is a special blog submission from Christopher VanStee
Tonight he cried. This wasn’t just a run of the mill temper-tantrum cry of a little boy. It wasn’t a cry of immature frustration or a standard life isn’t fare” cry. This was unlike any cry he ever experienced before in his eleven limited years of life. It was a deep down rolling cry that came in overwhelming waves of raw emotion, churning from the deepest depths of his soul into a down-right bawl. It was a kind of cry that changes a person spiritually. It was a kind of cry that can only be experienced in order to full comprehend or understand.
You see, he made a decision a while back that he wanted to become something he did not fully understand. He couldn’t have known. There are no books on the subject. It’s not displayed or explained in videos or on television. It just not taught because it can’t be taught. How do you teach someone about the spiritual and emotional reaction they will have within themselves when they make such an impactful and permanent choice?
I supported his decision, yet feared that this moment would come. I was afraid maybe he’d be too young to fully understand. I had made the choice myself many years ago, as did my father before me, and his father before him; but he’s much younger than any of us were. In our family, this choice is not forced upon anyone, yet somehow it becomes a form of rite of passage; especially for the men. It’s a kind of bond between the men in our family that goes deeper than most; because we know.
The wind blew mildly as storms passed to the north and south of our location. The mosquitoes buzzed the songs of their millennia of forefathers in our ears as we sought to remain silent and still. Made up games of pistachio shell football field goal were played in the quietness within the small shack. We whispered back and forth conversations that will shape our relationship for the remainder of our lives together, yet neither of us will ever recall the words spoken to one another on this day, in this shack. Squirrels rustled noisily outside the windows and chased one another up and down trees and over and along fallen logs. Birds made noises in the distance like squirrels…or was it squirrels that sounded like birds? A flock of turkeys meandered by. I watched his inquisitive face with the passing of each small critter. Then silence. We sought to fight off attack of both boredom and sleepiness while simultaneously building an unexplainable bond between us in the stillness and quiet of the oaks.
The time finally came. He was the first to spot the small movement in the dried up creek bed. I couldn’t make it out and would have likely overlooked it altogether on my own. I could feel the adrenaline starting to pump harder through my veins and could see the same was happening to the boy. I encouraged him to have patience and to wait. With the impatience equal to that of watching a full length superhero movie in slow motion, the eleven year old boy quietly sat as his body began the uncontrollable quivering. The creature slowly made his way towards us following the creek bed and remaining low to the ground. At 30 yards he turned, fully unaware of our presence. It was at that point I gave the go ahead to perform the maneuver we had practiced not more than an hour earlier. Silently placing his gun out the window and resting in on the sill for stability, he took careful aim and placed the X of the crosshairs slightly behind the front shoulder. I reached forward and turned his safety off for him as he fumbled with it in the emotional rush of the moment. The animal continued forward oblivious to our intentions. As he cleared some brush and trees, the slightly increasing pressure placed by the boys’ finger upon the trigger finally exceeded the mechanical limits preventing the spring from releasing. The gun roared in the small confines of the shack, but neither of us noticed. The buck jolted forward and ran at full speed. The intensity and gracefulness of his strides led both of us to believe that the young finger behind the trigger must have lacked the skill required to handle the intense pressures of the preceding moments. The boy said it first, “I missed” as we both watch the animal run away. And then it happened. The buck’s strides ever so slightly lost their grace. I noticed it, but don’t think the boy ever did; until he went down. From 50 yards away in our elevated shack overlooking the oak woods we had a perfectly clear view of the buck’s spirit fighting its way out of limitations of its own body. His legs kicked through the grass and wildly up in the air as the white of his belly thrashed around against the dark forest floor.
This was when it happened.
The rushing high of adrenaline pumping through his pre-adolescent veins as never before, combined with the momentary disappointment of believing he missed the shot he dreamed of having, topped off with the realization that he is responsible for taking a life created by The Almighty God Himself and is now watching the animal’s spirit break free of the confines of its physical body as it dies. In that moment, he sympathized, connected, and bonded with that creature in a way that can’t be taught, can’t be shown on videos or television, and can’t be explained to an eleven year old boy nor a 90 year old man. So he cried.
As he cried the movement outside the elevated blind ceased and the passing was over. The buck lay still in the distant as the little boy before me continued to cry a sob from his spirit to that of the deer’s. We exited the shack, stood outside its doors, and embraced as the heavens themselves opened up and cried with the child with sprinkling showers. After a few moments had passed, he composed himself a little and I asked why he was crying. He said that he hurt the animal and it was suffering. I assured him it was not and helped him load another round into the chamber, just in case. We approached the motionless animal slowly and calmly as tears still dried upon the eleven year olds cheeks in the mild breeze and sprinkling rain.
Upon arriving at the body I realized he had placed a perfect shot upon the creature to end its life as mercifully and swiftly as possible. As my son looked into the bucks face, he again experienced his unique connection with the animal and wept again. This time he somehow pulled me into the symbiotic web and we cried together as we prayed over the animal and thanked our mutual creator for providing a costly and lovely provision.
My boy decided to become a hunter a while back. Tonight he became one. Not because he killed a deer, but because he cried. A father can never be more proud than I am tonight to welcome him into the circle.
Christopher VanStee resides in the Ionia area where he is a father of three and husband of twenty years. In an email to MUCC he said:
“I am now to the point where it is my turn to introduce my sons to the thrill and excitement of hunting, while also instilling the essential respect for the lives of the creatures we hunt.”