They stood along the shore of the sea, looking much like walking mummies,
putrefied and stiff, with rotting black flesh. I grabbed my mother’s
arm. “Mom, have we come to the land of the living dead?” I asked,
unable to take my eyes off the zombies standing before me. My mother laughed
and ran towards them. “Come back, Mom!” I shouted. Was this woman
mad? Did she have a secret desire to join them? I chased her, trying to save
her before it was too late.
As I neared the water, I realized my foolish mistake. These were not ethereal
beings, demons, nor specters; they were people, living and breathing, and covered
in black mud. Their bodies were completely enshrouded in thick, sticky mud.
Aside from their eyes, which bulged from their faces and looked like ping pong
balls, no other flesh could be seen.
I glanced at my surroundings. A few people bobbed up and down like corks in
the shallow water. The sky was deep blue and reminded me of something I’d
see in a painting by Jean-Louis Sebastien. The sand was dry and caked with
a white crust. Pillars of salt jutted from the Dead Sea. My mind wandered back
to the biblical days of Sodom and Gomorra. Lot’s wife must have looked
much like this.
A row of trickling showers stood near the beach, waiting with patience to
wash the mud down their drains. Bougainvillea covered the chain link fences
around the limestone brick Visitor’s Center, adding a splash of color
to the drab red dirt scenery. The heat was oppressive. If I’d had an
egg, I could have fried it on the sun-baked sand. The smell of sulfur and rotten
eggs filled my lungs with every hesitant breath.
It was hot, dirty, and smelly, yet I was fascinated by everything I saw. Here
I was, standing on the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. I’d
spent most of my life living in the mountains, high above sea level, and now
I stood 1,320 feet below sea level. I was in Israel, an ancient kingdom filled
with history and events beyond my comprehension. My mother and I had both wanted
to spend a day at the Dead Sea. We’d read about it on the Internet. It
is ten times saltier than the Mediterranean Sea, being the saltiest sea on
earth. Rich in minerals, the Dead Sea boasts to contain twenty-one different
types. There are thermo-mineral springs. No fish or other marine life is sustained
in the clear waters. From where I stood I could see Masada, the Judean Hills,
and knew that on the other side of them stood the old city and new parts of
“Come and join us,” someone shouted, bringing me back to reality.
I searched for my mother. I giggled when I spotted her. She had rubbed the
nigrescent paste over her arms and legs.
I slipped off my sandals and pranced over the burning sands to the others.
I’d worn a swimsuit under my clothes, which I speedily removed. Within
seconds my mother and her new friends were plastering my body with therapeutic
mud. “It’ll do you good,” Mom said. I stood still, allowing
them to enjoy the feel of the muck. squishing between their fingers. I looked
at my mother, wondering if I looked as ridiculous as she did. I couldn’t
laugh for fear the mud would get in my eyes and mouth. I could feel it drying,
hardening on my body. My body began to tingle from the organic elements baking
in the desert sun.
“Mom, look at those people,” I heard a babe say. “They look
Even though the drying mud cracked and pulled my skin, feeling utterly horrible,
I began laughing. I trotted down to the Dead Sea and looked at my reflection.
My hair was pasty and sticking up in the air like dinosaur spikes. I did indeed
look like a monster.
An hour later I showered and watched the mud swirling in the water around
my feet before the drain swallowed it. I went for a dip in the sea and discovered
that what they’d said was true - I couldn’t sink! Floating with
my arms and legs spread-eagled, I closed my eyes. I heard goats bleating as
they clanked over stones, heading up the hillsides. Birds swooped overheard,
cawing, in search of a meal. The water lapped onto the beach in gentle rhythm
and jets soared high above.
How lucky I was to be in such a marvelous country, a land filled with history
of battles and wars, and yet, it was a sacred place. My own salty tears mingled
with the briny sea as I thought of Jesus. Had He walked along this very beach?
I knew that in my heart I would never be the same person again after that day
at the Dead Sea.