The crowd followed behind the boy as he held his chin up and continued to walk the road rarely traveled by others. No one had a reason anymore to take the dirt path leading to the only church remaining in the small town. That trail continued beyond the abandoned house of worship to the coast and ended beneath an ancient cypress tree. Step after step, the followers thinned out, leaving only a handful mocking the young man for his misguided faith in a long-dead ghost.
The boy recalled his last conversation with his ill father as he approached the destination, "Dad, tell me again about God and how he once lived here and walked our streets."
The dying man forced a smile and spoke to his eager son, "Kid, he didn't just go around chatting it up with his barber or squeezing tomatoes at the market like you and me. But he was real and was as big a part of this community as anyone else. You could see him in the faces of friends, neighbors, and even strangers passing through."
Puzzled, the boy asked, "How can you see something that isn't there?"
His father sat up in bed and explained, "Even when our city faced hardships, there was a sense of calm, and that was God. When our loved ones passed on and we took the time to comfort each other, that was God. When strangers stopped to smile at one another, that was God. If someone needed help and half the town volunteered, that was God. He wasn't only present at church on Sunday; he lived here every day with each of us.
"What happened, Dad? Why did he leave?" The boy questioned.
"He didn't go anywhere. We left him," his father insisted.
The boy's chest swelled up as he asked his father, "How do I find him again? Where do I look?"
A half-rotten apple struck the boy in the ankle, and the culprits laughed, but the curious adventurer refused to look back. Never losing focus, he continued on his journey. His only thoughts were of his father telling him to look for God at the top of the cypress at the end of town. But the other kids did not make his trek an easy one. They continued to throw things and voiced their opinions from a distance.
"Look what I have in my pocket; it's God."
"The idiot thinks he can climb a tree and see God."
"If God were real, he'd let us know."
"Maybe he thinks that tree will get him closer to Heaven," the children laughed and continued to call the boy names and make fun of him for seeking God.
The boy paused an instant at the foot of the tree to look up and second-guess his decision. He could hear his father's voice rooting him on, so he began to climb. The remaining group insisted that the young man had lost his mind and he would eventually fall. The boy did indeed slip a couple of times and scraped his leg against the rough bark of the cypress, but he continued upward. It was as if some invisible force took control of the boy's arms and legs, propelling him toward the top. The harsh words below grew faint until, finally, the sounds vanished into the breeze.
Thoughts of how such a giant tree started as a single seed hundreds of years ago entertained his imagination. He clambered until it wasn't safe to go further and relaxed on the last sturdy limb. His peers had turned into tiny specs along the ascent and were no longer a bother. The boy sat patiently, waiting to see the face of God. Sunbeams shot through the foilage, kissing his sweaty face and revealing a cross carved above a hole wide enough for an inquisitive hand. The tired young man reached in and pulled out a small pocket-sized bible. Resting his back against the tree, he started at the beginning and read for hours.
With the bible tucked securely in his pocket, it was time to descend. Most of the crowd had gotten bored and found other things to do except for two children waiting patiently for the boy to come down from the cypress. One of them spoke up and asked the boy, "Did you find him? Did you find God at the top of that tree?" Desperate for an answer, both of the young people waited. The boy dug the tiny bible from his pocket, looked into the faces of the two who remained, and said, "Yeah, I found him just now." And he read from the pages to his audience.