The young man stood beneath the shade of the juniper, staring upward at the sheer face of the cliff. It reared its head above him, stretching nearly a thousand feet upward, to end in a sharp point that the old ones had called The High Place.
The hill had once been considered sacred, he knew, and this was actually the first time he had ever been this close to it. But today was the day he had determined to become a man, today he would ascend the cliff.
He had watched that cliff all his life, fearing it from the day he first realized that one day he must climb it. It wasn't so much the climbing that would make a man of him, he understood that. It was something unknown, something that would occur on The High Place, which would bring about that result.
Of his people, there were but few who had climbed it, and those who had done so refused to say much about it. Yet he and the others respected them tremendously, and more than all else he wished for the same kind of respect that was shown to them. Then too, those who had climbed it experienced a change somehow, and he desperately wanted that change in his life.
He thought of his parents, with whom he argued a great deal lately. He knew they loved him, for such was the way of his people, and he guessed he loved them also, but for some reason they could not get along with each other any longer.
The young man understood the problem very well; his parents were simply over-protective. They refused to trust his judgment, to allow him to make decisions of his own. They still thought of him as a child, little more than a baby, who would not be allowed to make his own way in the world.
It was like climbing this cliff. For years his parents had known he would one day do it, and both had worried themselves sick over it. His mother had pleaded that he not make the attempt, or if he must, to seek counsel from his father before trying. His father, never really against his climbing of the cliff, had adamantly insisted that when the young man decided to try, he involve his father in the climb. What a pathetic idea that was! He needed to do it on his own to gain the respect he desired. If his people found out that his father had helped, they'd laugh at him. There was no way he would allow that to happen.
So this morning he had crept from the house while his parents and little brothers had slept. He had totally fooled them and now he was ready to begin the ascent.
Smiling as he thought of what his friends would say when they learned of his accomplishment, he began climbing. At first it was not so bad, but then the sun appeared, and before long he was perspiring heavily. It also grew increasingly dangerous, and his pace grew slower by the hour. Before long his hands were torn and bloody, and so were his knees. From one handhold or toehold to another he inched his way upward, nearly falling several times and yet always managing, just barely, to cling to the face of the cliff.
At one point, for a hundred feet or so, he had easy going, for he found a chimney or crack in the face of the cliff through which he climbed. At another place he found a narrow ledge that wound its way upward for a short distance, and along that he simply walked. But those were the only easy places, and the remainder of the climb was a dangerous and grueling torture.
It was late afternoon when the young man, exhausted, bloody, and filled with terror at the thought of the descent still before him, finally dragged his battered body over the lip of the cliff to lie spent on the smoothly worn stone of The High Place. He had made it, he knew, but he also knew that he would spend the night there and would likely die the next day trying to get down. He was simply not capable of that descent.
At last he crawled to the edge and stared downward into the dizzy depths, and as he did, he no longer thought of the praise of his friends or of the honor, respect and glory his people would show him. He thought only of his parents and family, and of what his death would do to them.
Why, oh, why hadn't he asked his father for help, for advice? Bitterly he cursed himself, and then tears stained his cheeks as he wept openly, his grief a combination of fear, self pity, and genuine concern for his family.
For a long time he lay there, but at length, his emotion spent, he rose to his knees to move back to the center of The High Place. But he couldn't move! He was so filled with terror that his legs refused to operate, and so at last he had to worm his way back to the center.
As he worked his way around, trying to get as comfortable as possible, he began to think about his accomplishment, and for the first time he realized how proud he was that he had stood on The High Place. Not many could say that, he knew, and at least, should he die tomorrow, he would be remembered as a hero, he who had climbed the...
A flash of white under the edge of a nearby rock caught his attention, and the young man wormed his way to it. It was a torn piece of paper, and as he unfolded it he wondered what great message some previous visitor had left him. At last, hands shaking, he opened the paper, and as he read he felt the change that would take him from boyhood to true manhood. The note said simply:
When we awoke this morning and found you gone, I came immediately to The High Place to await your arrival. But you had taken so long that your little sister, who came with me, needed to get home. We have started back. If you had only asked me this morning, I would have told you of the steps of the Old Ones carved on the south end of the cliff. That would have saved you all the grief and agony, and most of the day as well.
My son, the true test of manhood is not that you have climbed to The High Place. Anyone can do that. The true test is how you did it. When a man is humble enough to involve those around him in his climb, then he is a man.
Now hurry down the trail. We'll be going slow, waiting for you.
Love, Your Father"
I dedicate this to my sons. I hope they read this someday, and understand its message.