“For others, in spite of myself, from myself.” —Emmanuel Levinas
I was four or five when I ran away from home.
Granted, I only made it to the end of my street—maybe a hundred yards from my house—before heading back. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision stemming from my preschool sense of injustice. See, I was out playing in the backyard with my mom and Tim, my three-year-old little brother, when we heard something whizzing over our heads.
“Look, guys, an airplane,” said my mom, pointing up to the sky and trailing the jet’s flight with her fingers. My brother saw it, his keen eyes brightening up in amazement. But I missed it. By the time I oriented myself to the trajectory of my mom’s finger tracing the sky, the plane had slipped over my sightline further into the horizon, a view obstructed by the nearby woods.
Enraged, I took off in a dead sprint.
My rough-hewn causal reasoning convinced me that because Tim had seen the plane before me, I was unable to see it at all. And little brothers are easy targets. So when my frustration about the plane crossed over into blame, that blame was all I could see. I had to put distance between us.
Outrage in Indiana.
Last week, our governor, Mike Pence, signed the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act into state law. The Act, according to Pence, is meant to keep state and local governments from individuals and companies exercising their religious beliefs, primarily in discriminating against the gay community. For a more in-depth look, you can read up on what’s so upsetting about it here. But behind all of the prejudice and politics (Pence is up for re-election soon, and he may even be considering a presidential bid to boot), this RFRA illustrates an ugly defense that looks more like an offense. Moreover, it is up to the people and businesses to surmise sexual orientation off-the-cuff or, just as bad, to exclude known, openly gay individuals in the community.
A real offense against a perceived one.
When I stomped back to my yard, my mom was understandably upset. She promptly lectured me about how dangerous it was to run off down the road alone, how worried she was, how helpless she felt since she couldn’t leave Tim by himself in the yard and was unable to chase after me. Sure, the lesson sunk in, but what really made a mark was seeing Tim clutching my mom’s legs, tears of hurt and confusion falling off his chin.
Actions and consequences. Stepping outside oneself.
But I missed the plane.
And those are real tears.
My little recollection is not meant to allegorize anything about current events. I want to make that clear. But a child capable of experiencing groundless feelings of injustice is also capable of recognizing the unfairness of his response and the damage it does. And now I’m raising two boys to be brothers not just by birth but by action. When one feels slighted and retaliates in a shriek or strike, I swoop in to teach them that life is not fair—it cannot please everyone all the time—but we do not make it more unfair.
I didn’t see the airplane, but I did see (and still see) my hurt brother.
Jacob Schepers (Calvin ’12) is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (2014), a winner of the 2013 Outriders Poetry Project competition. His poetry has appeared in Verse, The Common, PANK, The Destroyer, and others. He lives in South Bend, IN, with his wife, Charis, and two sons, Liam and Oliver. He is both an MFA student and doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame.