I breathed in the crisp yet musty air one more
time to assure myself once again that it was real-that I was
alive. I scraped my shoe on the dirt, tearing through the dry
grass, and shoved my hands in my pockets. I glanced up and said,
"Where do you think we are?"
"I don't know, Peter," she replied. "We were only just at home, and now we're…here…."
"Wherever that is," I muttered.
Sarah's tangled blonde hair moved slightly in the breeze as she stood up. She brushed the remnants of dirt off her skirts and retied the green ribbon around her waist. Her arms crossed over each other and she glanced at me.
"We can't sit here all day, you know."
I walked a few paces to our right and picked up a fist-sized flattened stone off the white sand. It rolled about in my palm while I mulled over what we should do. Where we were wasn't the real problem. People were going to notice we were missing. Especially since it was only yesterday that it had been Sarah's birthday. People were bound to notice the absence of a particular bouncy, blonde 7-year-old.
I tossed the stone into the water and I was surprised to see that it skipped all the way to other side of the water, or at least as near as I could tell. That wasn't the strangest thing, however. It glittered. Every time the rock had bounced on the waves, a shimmering light soon followed, like a trail of daylight across the darkened sky.
Sarah jumped up. "Peter, did you see that?" she asked.
I scowled. "Of course I did."
"Do it again."
And so I did. I threw countless stones into the water and each time the trailing radiance was more brilliant than before. Soon, Sarah was throwing stones too and we were having a jolly good time. Of course, before long one of us would have to stop and be sensible.
"We really should be going."
"Do we have to? I could stay here forever!"
"Yes, we have to. Mum will be wondering where we are."
"Oh," she said and paused. "I suppose. But-where do we go?"
In all honesty, I had no idea. I didn't particularly care to tell her though, and I was only saved from embarrassment by a faint sound in my ear. "Do you hear that?" I asked.
"I think it's music."
And indeed it was. It was like a harp, but unlike any harp that I had ever heard before. In a way, it was a chorus of flutes but instead of wind, it was stringed and sounded neither like a flute nor a harp but both at the same time. Soon after we started hearing the soft melody in our ears, quiet voices joined it.
I looked at Sarah and she was looking at me and then we both turned to where the music was coming from. Actually, we couldn't tell exactly where it came from, only where it seemed to be beckoning us to go.
Sarah was the first to move. She slowly took a step forward and I followed, an almost trance-like state taking over. We walked through the rolling fields of grass, but the music never got louder. And before long, we couldn't hear the music at all; it was drowned out by laughter.
To my right was a clump of trees and underneath the shade was a group of nine or ten kids, most of them younger than me. I think they were playing ring-around-the-rosy, but I couldn't tell. Something pulled on my arm.
"Peter, maybe they can help us."
She was probably right. Maybe they could tell us where to find a telephone so we could call Mum.
We walked over to the rabble and they quieted down.
"Hello," said Sarah brightly.
"Hello!" came the chorus.
"Do you know where we can find a telephone?" I asked.
They looked confused. "We don't have telephones, silly." One of the girls stepped forward. "You must be new."
"Umm, right. We've never been here before." Her eyes sparkled.
"Well, we are glad you're here. Would you like something to eat? The apples are all really yummy."
I frowned as my growling stomach gave me away. I was pretty hungry…and no doubt that Sarah was too. "Ok." The girl squealed and pulled Sarah's arm to the nearest tree. She asked us to try one.
Sarah took a bite and her eyes gleamed with satisfaction. "Peter, you have to try this! These are so much better than the apples from Uncle Jasper's orchard!"
I plucked an apple off a low-lying branch and scrutinized it. There weren't any worm holes and it looked ripe. I sunk my teeth in.
It was the most amazing thing I had ever eaten. Golden Delicious (my personal favorite) coudn't hold a candle to it. When my teeth broke the skin it made a crunch and juice spilled over my chin. It was so succulent and moist, not dry and flavorless like some apples. The apple was soft, almost so that it melted in my mouth, but it was also crisp and had a definite texture that I really can't describe properly. And another thing-it was heavy. It had a lot more weight to it than an apple ought to have, almost like it was more real than the apples I'd had before.
I wiped the juices dribbling from my chin and quickly ate the rest, each bite a new sensation. When I finished I saw that all the kids were staring at me like I was a gluttonous pig on display at a petting farm for all to see. Blood rushed to my cheeks as I blushed in embarrassment. Sarah rolled her eyes at me.
She glanced at me with a look that asked, "What now?"
Really, what now? I hadn't the foggiest. I decided to make sure there wasn't any possible way we could call Daddy or Mum. "No telephones?" I asked for clarification.
The kids shook their heads.
"Well, do you have a cab or some other way we could get back home?" They all frowned in response, several of them gasping under their breath. My temper flared and I was about to say something probably very foolish, but I stopped. I had heard the music again. Sweetly whispering in my ear, one voice in particular resounded in my thoughts. A clear tenor, it was no different than any of the other voices except for a specific ring it had to it.
Without a word, the kids around us bolted off. There was no telling how, but they simply were headed towards the voices. And so I followed with my sister trotting along behind me.
We wandered through a prairie field, paying no heed to the wildflowers we were trampling. I think I remember seeing a kind, old man walking close to us. His arms held a large book made of the molten moon and golden binding.
I brought my head back to my path just in time to keep myself from running into a little girl in front of me. We had stopped in front of a huge gate imbedded in a wall that reached to the skies. The gate was one of three, each the same as the other. It was made out of pearl-not a thousand tiny ones, mind you, but one giant one. The walls sparkled like only jasper could and the sun glinted off it.
I squinted my eyes. Now that I looked around, I couldn't find the sun. I shrugged it off, thinking it must be hiding beyond the walls around the seemingly enormous city.
I waited patiently for a guard or similarly stationed man to open up the gate, but no one came. Actually, I didn't have to be patient for long because we walked right in. There were no shadows throughout the length of the long-stretching gateway, but I held Sarah close to me anyway.
It was incredible.
At first glance, everything looked to be made of gold. With closer inspection however, you could see that it was clear. Yes, it was gold, but a gold so pure that is was translucent. There is no possible way for me to describe how beautiful it was. Amazing. And it made one feel different. I felt invigorated, strong, possessed by some angel of valor and courage. That was part of me. The other part felt peaceful and serene; not like I was going to fall asleep, but more as if I could handle anything life hurled my way. That part felt like I had just woken up on the first day of summer and the birds were heralding the new dawn.
I can only wonder what Sarah felt.
I stood there gaping until someone from within the city gently pushed me on my way. Shaking my head-but still reveling in these…emotions…I was feeling-I followed after the other kids. Before I had gotten too far though, I looked back from where we had come. Above the gate hung a word suspended in midair: Judah.
Just like they say at church, I thought to myself. Streets of gold. Gates of pearl. Even the Book of Life I realized with a start, remembering the old man.
I froze mid-step. Is that where we were? Heaven? But, that wasn't possible. We would've had to die to go to heaven. Right? I drilled my mind for stories I had heard about heaven in Sunday school. Yes, I'm sure you had to die.
Sarah yanked on my arm and I kept walking. We continued in silence until I was about ready to burst. "Sarah," I hissed.
"What?" she shot back, equally as venomous.
"I think this is heaven."
"Peter, you've gone batty!"
"I have not. We're on streets of gold. Where else could we be?"
She pondered this and then her childish face lit up with innocent fascination. "Maybe we can meet God, Peter! And see Grandfather again!"
I sighed inwardly. She was too young to understand.
Our troupe stopped again, this time in front of a small spring. After I looked closer though, it became obvious that rather than the water flowing up from underground, it rushed down into an endless pit of light. My eyes followed the river that led up from the "spring." At the end of the river was a tree, larger than any on earth. Although, considering where we were, it was hardly unbelievable. Its limbs twisted on either side of the river and draped over a great, white throne. The throne was magnificent and there was an air of majesty about it.
We walked along the border of the river-the River of Life?-until we came to yet another stop. The great, white throne was before us but, contrary to what all the storybooks depict, no one was seated upon it. No, but there was a man sitting on the ground laughing, his eyes sparkling. All the kids gathered around him and-also contrary to storybooks-I noticed he was utterly normal. No robes of white and purple silk. No great crown on his brow. No rays of light bursting forth. No Book of Life cradled in his arms.
Only scars and a hammer.
He had two scars, the former on his left wrist, the latter on his right. In those scars I saw everything. Pain-being forced into a marriage by your parents, losing your father in the war against the Nazis, learning that for the third time, you've had a miscarriage. Deceit-finding out that your best friend lied to you, dreading that every time you speak is the time you'll be exposed, listening to your daughter spin a web of lies in front of you. Hatred-festering hatred for the father who abandoned you, leaving in fear of a god who is unmerciful and unforgiving, seeing your own flesh and blood look down on you with disgust.
I saw everything.
I saw all the wrong and the ugly of the world, and I also saw that he who bore the scars had born them willingly. Despite the fact that he was perfect and blameless and completely without shame, he willing took all of our bad. He had no need to. He certainly didn't deserve to.
I cried and I didn't much care at all. I was in the presence of a King-a perfect King-and I was filthy. Filthy with all the stuff that gave Him those scars.
His worn carpenter's hands brushed away my tears. He set down the hammer He had been holding and raised His other hand to Sarah's cheek. She was crying too. And then He spoke:
"My children, don't you know that there are no tears in My kingdom?"
I stifled a sniffle. "Yes, Sir. But I don't deserve to be here, Sir."
"No," He said softly. "you don't. But I made a way so that you can be here, Peter."
I buried my head in His shoulder. He smelled like new spring grass and wood shavings. "I'm sorry," I managed to mutter.
"Thank you. The note is much appreciated. But, Peter, Sarah…you're not ready to stay with Me yet. You've only seen a glimpse of My kingdom-there is so much more to see! But now is not the time. You have to go back. You're parents would be missing you all too soon."
Sarah sniffled. "Alright. I do miss mum and daddy."
"I'm sure you do, dearest. But now it's time to return. Take My love…"
"Lovey, you need to wake up. Uncle Frederic and Aunt Susan have brought over a belated gift for Sarah! Come and see before she wakes up!"
"My, you are groggy. Come see Sarah's gift and then we'll breakfast, shall we?"
"Why isn't it gold anymore?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"The River-where did it go?"
"Love, I think you've been dreaming."
Could that be it? Had I been dreaming all along? Love, I said to myself. It has a new meaning now. I sat up in bed and gave my mum a bear-hug. "I love you, Mum. I always will."
"Well, this is nice. What the dickens were you dreaming?"
I smiled. "Nothing, Mum. I wasn't dreaming at all." It was real.