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Sarah had not asked for much on her birthday, but it was something I had never planned to do again. She wanted to go up on top of the mountain, and look out over the sea. What a dumb thing to do. We've seen everything there is to see up there, and done everything there is to do. It's a hard, tiring climb. It's inconvenient to get wood for a fire. The swimming is poor, and it's too dangerous to play rowdy. I thought, but I said nothing. After all it was her day. If she wanted to waste it climbing the mountain, that was her privilege. She said she did not even care if we had a fire. We could eat jerky, but I would not go up there without fishing. That was the only thing worth doing.
Friday, July 25, 1951, we arose early and were all ready to go when we finished breakfast, but Sarah wanted to swim for a little while before we left. She said if we got there for supper, it would be early enough. Finally, with Sheba in the lead, we started the climb. It seemed much easier this time, the trail was halfway familiar, and we were a full half year older, and we had more experience hiking the jungle trails. Also, the trails were not so difficult to reopen. The undergrowth had closed them again, but it was not as dense or as large. The sun was still high in the western sky when we made the trip around the rim of the lake.
It was Sarah's birthday and no one had complained about making the trip, but after we arrived, Julie said, "I don't like the Top of the World. It's kinda scary up here. We can't play 'cause we might fall down into the jungle."
"That's the Top of the World." Sarah pointed to the rock covering the shelter. "This is only the top of a mountain, and I better not ever catch you on the Top of the World. It's too dangerous up there."
I said nothing, but I knew why Sarah wanted to celebrate her birthday in this miserable place. The Top of the World was her special place, and maybe a little bit mine. We could live to be gray haired men and women on this island, and it would still be too dangerous for the others to climb the extra six feet to the top of the giant flat rock. I did not have to be told that after the others went to sleep, she would wake me, if necessary, and we would climb to the Top of the World. She wanted to try to relive her experience of our first night up here. I also knew we would make this trek every year on her birthday to sit in the starlight and gaze out over the sea. It was a secret the others would never understand.
We did not need firewood. There had been enough left over from the last time to cook a fish for supper.
I looked out over the sea through the binoculars for a while scanning the horizon for something I knew would not be there. I checked the western surf looking for the dolphins. They were below the cave, waiting for us to come out and play. I would much rather have been down there with them than up here on the mountain.
I turned my attention to the island. It looked different, now that we had explored the lower part. We still had not seen the upper ridges and ravines south of Goat Field. We'll have to do that some day. I gave the glasses to Julie, who wanted to look.
I sat down at the north end of the shelter to relax and meditate, and maybe take a nap. It might be nice to sit up all night with Sarah on the Top of the World. It was not long 'til I was asleep. When I awoke the sun was starting to settle low in the West. Butch and Rascal had come to let us know they were going hunting. "No!" I ordered. "Lie down!" They went around the rim a little and lay down.
Sarah was sitting on the other side of me napping. She had hooked her arm through mine and had her head on my shoulder. It was not normal for her to be so close, without teasing me, and I could not remember her ever taking a nap in the afternoon, but it was her birthday. I decided she could do pretty much what she wanted. I tried unsuccessfully to withdraw my arm without waking her.
"Where are you going?" She looked at me.
"If I want fish for supper, and I do, I'd better get a fire started."
"Don't build it too big. I'd like to sit in the starlight tonight."
"Just enough to cook the fish; then, we'll put water on it if necessary." I promised.
"I wonder if we can see the bats come out from up here," I picked up a pair of binoculars, as twilight began to fade, and trained them toward the cave. There was nothing, but it was still a little early. I sat down on a large reasonably flat area above the lake. "Sarah, would you come here a minute, I want to whisper something to you."
"What?" She asked as she sat close to me.
I put my arm around her, pulled her close to me so she could not get a way, and whispered aloud enough for the others to hear, "Happy birthday. We almost forgot birthday spankings."
"No!" She screamed. "This ain't fair."
"Spanking time," Jamie yelled and the three came running.
"Don't forget, I'm your momma. No fair hitting hard."
"You ain't my momma, tonight. You're my sister, and I'm gettin' even for all the times I've been mad at you all year." Julie brought her hand down hard on Sarah's bottom. "Me too," Debbie took the next swat.
"Remember, I'm a girl, Jamie," Sarah pleaded. "Boys ain't s'posed to hit girls."
"Birthday spankin's ain't hittin'. They're spankin's."
By the time we finished, Sarah wished she were only about three instead of nine, but she took it all in good fun, and managed to get through it with only a few tears. "That wasn't nice, tricking me like that. I thought you were going to tell me something important."
"That was important."
"You didn't have to whisper it."
"If I had yelled it you might have run right off the cliff into the jungle. That wouldn't have been a Happy birthday, would it?"
She slapped me playfully.
"Here come the bats." Jamie distracted us.
We turned to see the bats coming, not only from the little window above the entrance, but also from the big window in the den room and a few other entrances we did not know existed. "We've got a better view from up here than we do at the cave." I grabbed the binoculars, but they limited my field of vision, so I dropped them.
"Can we sleep out here, tonight, Sarah?" Jamie asked.
"Aren't you afraid that you'll roll off into the lake, or off the cliff?"
"We don't roll around that much." Debbie found a hollow spot her size in the apron. "'Sides if we roll into the lake we can all swim."
"What if you don't wake up?"
"You're being silly, Sarah," Julie found a place for herself. "We'd wake up when we hit the water."
Sarah never really answered them. We just lay there talking for a few minutes. I told them about David and Goliath; how, because of his faith in God, the little boy was able to defeat the warrior, and cut off his head with the giant's own sword. Then I explained how we all have giant problems that are easily licked if we put our trust in the Lord. I remembered Sarah's illness as an example of that kind of giant. We could not help her, until we trusted in the Lord. We stood in a circle and said our prayers, went through the dumb kissing ritual, and everybody sat or lay back down where they had been.
It was the first time since we had been on the island that we had lain down to sleep at night that I could not put my arm around Julie and touch Jamie. I said nothing, but I kind of missed it. It was a dark night. A little sliver of a moon was just rising out of the eastern horizon. We talked for a while, but soon Sarah and I were alone. "C'mon up on the Top of the World with me." She spoke softly. "It was so nice the last time, I want to see if it'll be the same again."
"I'll go up there with you, but it won't be the same. That was a once in a lifetime experience. We can never recapture that."
"I hope you're wrong."
We were seated on the Top of the World, really close together. She was hugging my arm, as if she was afraid I might fly away without her. We sat there for a few minutes in silence; then, she put my arm over her shoulder. "Lets pray together, and ask Jesus to let that warm glow fill us again like He did the last time."
"All right. You go first." I squeezed her tightly.
"Lord God Almighty, ruler of the universe, you see us here alone, here on the Top of the World. Let your love shine down on us here as it did before. Let us again experience that wonderful, wonderful feeling of being one in mind and spirit. Let us know without a shadow of a doubt that you are with us, and in us. Let the light of your Son light our way tonight. Thank you, Lord, for your presence."
"Lord God in heaven," I continued, "we are your children, in your hands. Have your perfect will in our lives. Help us always to do what's right in your sight. Lead us in the paths of righteousness, and correct us if we start to go the wrong way, and bring us back onto the right path. Like Sarah says, Let your light shine through us always, and as we sit here, let us feel your holy presence here on the Top of the World. Fill us with your glory and let us know that we are in your will. Help us always to lead and teach the others your ways. Thank you Jesus for hearing our prayers. In Jesus' Name, Amen."
I had been wrong. The feeling had returned. We squeezed each other one time, and she kissed my shoulder. We removed our arms from around each other, and once again she grasped my arm like she might lose it if she did not. We must have sat there for an hour in total silence enjoying each other's company on the Top of the World, inside as well as out. Under God's great and wonderful starlit canopy, we gazed out over the dark sea, which had snatched us from our families and stolen our childhood. We did not talk. We did not have to. We saw through each others eyes, thought each others thoughts, and felt each others feelings. After a long time, I lay back, and she lay beside me. My arm was her pillow, and her arm rested on my chest. Never again would we joke about this place. Never again would we make light of these experiences.
When I awoke in the pre-dawn light, she was already awake. Neither of us had moved, and neither wanted to, but morning necessities demanded it. It was still there. Nothing had changed from the night before. We, two little children, lay pure and holy in the sight of our loving Father. We would never have to talk about this night, or try to remember it. It would live in our memories until we drew our last breath.
Copyright © 1995
Leonard H. Hall, Sr.
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