Joy Riggs

The weathered hotel lifeguard stands knee-deep in the brine. “Come,” he gestures. Like compliant kindergartners on a field trip, my husband, our two sons, and I approach, single file, sand dusting our naked toes.

On my turn, I grasp the man’s steadying hands and squeeze hard as my pale feet slip on rock. He turns me around to face the strip of beach and the luxury resort beyond, its palm trees lush and green against buff-colored Moorish architecture.

“Sit,” he says. I ease into the seventy-five-degree water, which feels like silk against my exposed skin. Below me, I see no fish, no algae, no bubbles of air. If I were back at home on the other side of the world, I wouldn’t see fish either. It’s almost Christmas, and Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes are frozen over.

The man pushes me gently, and I float out to my family. Knees bent, shoulders back, we bob in the hypersaline lake as though reclining in invisible chairs. We are as buoyant as yellow bathtub ducks. We paddle gingerly.

“Don’t splash. It could get in your eyes,” my older son warns.

Across the expanse of blue rise the golden mountains of Israel and the West Bank. Above us, puffy clouds turn dark as the sun sinks toward the horizon. It is impossible to soak it all in: the layers of history and culture in this region, the comingling and cleaving of religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam—over centuries.

Later, when my husband creates a photo album of our jam-packed week in Jordan, there will be no evidence of this moment of grace. It’s okay. I can close my eyes and return anytime.

Arms outstretched, face turned toward the heavens, I exhale deeply, marveling at how a dip in the Dead Sea can make me feel oh so alive.

Joy Riggs is the author of Crackerjack Bands and Hometown Boosters: The Story of a Minnesota Music Man. She specializes in writing about history, travel, and parenting. Her essays have appeared in publications including the Star Tribune, StoryNews, BLUNTmoms, Grown and Flown, Peacock Journal, Topology Magazine, and Minnesota Parent. She lives in Northfield, Minnesota.