I had no idea how far we’d walked—when you’re tromping through the woods with two kids, time drags on until it becomes irrelevant—but it was far enough that we were ready to turn around and go home. After all, it wasn’t as if we had a map to go by. All we had were stories.
“Maybe we should just pray,” my son said. My son, who announced last week that he wanted to be a preacher when he grew up. To him, praying is the answer to everything.
“I think God would rather we walk than pray,” I told him.
“Why, did you ask him?”
I didn’t answer. We pushed on through the brambles and found the river—at least that part of the story had been proven right—then decided to sit and watch the water. My daughter tried to spot fish, my wife tried to spot spiders, and I tried to figure out where we should look next.
My son, the future Preacher Man, looked into the blue sky peeking through green trees and said, “Our Father, whose art ain’t in heaven, Halloween be your name.”
“This way,” I told them. “I think it’s over here.”
Which wasn’t true at all. I had no idea where it was or even if it was, but you know about men and directions. Besides, it wasn’t like we could pull over at the next gas station.
My daughter said, “Maybe we should just go home before we get eaten,” which brought more prayers from the little boy in the back.
I reminded them of the value of a story, of how the whole world was made of them and sometimes they’re true and sometimes they’re not, and how sometimes the ones that are not have more truth. And when you come across a story about an old home forgotten somewhere in the mountains, you have to go look. You just have to.
So we trudged on—me, my wife, my daughter, and the Preacher, who was now calling down the Spirit to keep Bigfoot away.
Truth be known, I didn’t think we’d find a thing. Though the mountains here are littered with the remnants of pioneer homesteads, their locations are masked by either wilderness or the foggy memories of the old folk. But the directions I’d received turned out to be pretty darn close. It wasn’t long until the woods opened up a bit into an ancient bit of clearing, and wouldn’t you know it, there was something up ahead.
Of course that something was hidden by a couple hundred years of changing seasons. Trees and bushes and plants had reclaimed the area that was once taken from them. All that remained to be seen was a bit of foundation. The rest was enclosed by an impenetrable wall of overgrowth.
“Let’s try to break through,” my daughter said, to which she received a chorus of no ways.
“I don’t want to go in there,” my wife said.
“I’m too tired to try to go in there,” I said.
“We should really pray first before we go in there,” my son said.
Simply going back was no longer an option. We’d found it now, and to leave without at least a look around simply wouldn’t do. So we looked. All of us. We poked and prodded for weak spots, we tried to peek into what had likely gone unseen for centuries. We stood on tiptoes and jumped and, once, even tried to make a human pyramid. But it was no use. The mountains would not give up their secrets that day.
“Hey,” my son said, “I see something.”
He was knee-bent, face almost in the dirt, peering through the undersides of thorns and thickets.
The rest of us followed. Knees bent, faces in the dirt, peering through the thorns, we found holes just big enough to peer through. What lay on the other side was nothing more than the remnants of a stone foundation, but to us it was Machu Picchu and Stonehenge and Easter Island rolled into one.
It was then that I realized what my son had done. The little Preacher Man, too little to jump too high or tiptoe too up, had decided to use his smallness to his advantage.
He’d gone to his knees.
“You can see more if you get on your knees, Daddy,” he’d often said. “If you stand up, you just see what you can. But if you bow down, God will show you what you can’t.”
Those words, profound as they were, had always gotten him a rub on the head or a squeeze on the shoulder. Nothing more. But then I knew just how right he was, and I wondered just how much I’d missed in my life because I’d been standing instead of kneeling.