“Not what you expected?”
“I suppose not.”
The water was shallow and murky, wending its way slowly amid its silty banks, cautiously—perhaps even wisely, considering how hotly it had always been contested.
“Hey, look,” said the elder man. “The truth is, this isn't anywhere close to where John baptized. Beth-abara is a good ninety k south of here. But good luck. That place is a military base. We're lucky to have access to the river at all.” He paused. “Ironic, huh?”
“Well, the place Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descended like a dove. Now it's a military base.”
“I don't know,” said the young man. “I guess I thought I would feel more...more...”
“Yes. Grandeur. I thought I'd feel more grandeur. I mean, I've been hearing Bible stories about this place my whole life, and now here I am. And all it is is a concrete step into a muddy creek. I think the sewer main under my street is bigger than this.”
“There's a dam on the Yarmouk River that flows into the Jordan, and the Israelis have one of their own, too. That's how they manage to grow all that fruit in the desert. It's a shame it's been reduced to this. Which do you feel sorrier for: yourself, or the river?”
“I wish I could say the river.”
“Just remember this: This really is an historic and mythic place. It is a river that has figured in some of the greatest events the world has known. But it is still just a river. A river doesn't wash you. Only God does that.”
The young man put his hands on his hips and looked out across the valley and up at the Golan Heights. Somewhere, men with guns were watching from outposts, ready to defend, ready to kill, ready to die. He wondered if they were watching him.
In front of him, waist deep, the elder man waited.
“So, if you're ready...?”
“I'm ready,” said the young man.
And with that, he entered a world of mud and water and swaying reeds in an act uniting him to millions of others over two millenia. And as the sounds of tour buses and airplanes and cameras died away, he died to himself.
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