I loved The Cay by Theodore Taylor (Puffin Books, 1969) and recently reread it. I wondered why it appeals to me when I don’t relate to either of the two main charactors, Phillip and Timothy. Phillip is a twelve year old white American school boy and Timothy is a black seaman who is about seventy or so. They are shipwrecked on a deserted cay. Timothy actually saves Phillip’s life during a storm and dies shortly afterwards. However even before this Timothy made daily decisions which also saved Phillip’s life. Phillip had become blind yet Timothy would not let him stay dependant on him. He taught him how to fish, how to catch rain water, how to build a shelter, how to weave a mat and how to attract the attention of passing aircraft. Phillip was not always a willing student. It is only after Timothy’s death that it becomes truly apparent how gracious Timothy was. Phillip finds he has many skills that Timothy taught him in order to survive plus many things he would have found it difficult to make, like fishing rods. Following Timothy’s death Phillip expected to find two or three spare fishing rods but Timothy had made twelve.
Timothy is a quiet achiever he did not draw attention to all the things he was doing to help Phillip. It wasn’t until after Timothy’s death that Phillip fully appreciated the extent of his help. Occasionally people are called upon to perform a once in a life time heroic act yet what is more difficult is to make daily sacrifices to help another without drawing attention to yourself.