Masada by Alex Marston
There is a pocket in the pit of your stomach you may not know you have. It lies somewhere off the large intestine, a small cavern in which remnants of last night’s dinner tie knots with nerves. This is the spot you feel first when you wake up at 3:30 in the morning. This is the pocket that tightens when you try to force cake down your throat when you know you’re not hungry. It is covered with a flap. If Jerusalem is the heart of Israel, then Masada is this pocket in the pit of your stomach.
There is a volcano in Ecuador called Chimborazo. Because of the bulge of the equator, the peak of Chimborazo is the place on Earth closest to the sun. But you are halfway around the world from Ecuador at the Dead Sea, the inverse Everest, the closest you can get to the center of the Earth.
The goal for the day is to rise from this pit, to return to sea level. This seems entirely possible. You have heard the climb is difficult, but you come equipped with Tevas like the Romans and Camelbaks like the Ottomans. It’s been done before.
Your adrenaline runs through your body and you hope there’s no way it can escape out your mouth as you yawn. You’re unsure of the science.
The moon is full, but despite the wildlife-deterrent fences all around you don’t hear any howling, only footsteps and small talk. The white light fills you with hope that you might be able to place your feet in ways that won’t bring you into full contact with cliff sides, so you step and step and step and it’s really hot considering the lack of sunlight.
This is a race. The Earth spins on its axis at a velocity you can’t remember but know is really fast, continuously flinging you toward the side of the globe facing the sun. You must make it to the top of the climb before the sun makes it to the top of the mountains in Jordan. It’s the only way to justify the self-induced weight of your eyelids.
Overhead are lines for a cable car, and if there were passengers, you and they would look longingly in each others’ eyes, envying each others’ choice of transport. But the lines aren’t open yet because the day hasn’t started and this is the whole point. You are getting closer.
Two thousand years ago you would have been in battle with rocks being dropped on your head. There are no rocks being dropped on your head and this makes you feel good. You are almost there.
The summit is a somber place where difficult choices were made and hearts were stopped by the brains they fueled, where humans were seen at their best and at their worst. As you approach it, your mind focuses only on the beauty of the landscape that engulfs you and the difficulty of trespassing it. When you finally reach the top and allow your limbs to pause and your heart to slow, humans are nowhere on your mind. You are hypnotized by the colors, the distance, the sky, the quiet harmony of nature.
After a moment you are awoken from your trance as clicking sounds around you signify the impression of light on film, and you think about where you are. This is the place where men and women become heroes, where children become adults, where lion cubs are shown the world and promised it will all be theirs.
But we don’t need promises; all of this is ours already. And as the sun begins to peak over the horizon, you realize the pocket in the pit of your stomach has somehow shot its contents into the bottom of your throat. As you take a deep breath, you realize you are finally fully awake.