The other day as I was sitting outside enjoying the late-spring sunshine, I noticed a little turtle doing the same. Resting less than two feet away from me, he nervously yanked his head back into the safety of his shell at the sound of my voice.
But as I continued to talk to him (yes – I talk to animals. I think they dig me), he quickly ascertained that I meant him no harm. I pulled no sudden moves, I didn’t reach to pick him up. I merely watched him to see what he would do next. He was probably scoping me out, too.
In short order, he slowly extended his head back out of his safety zone and he continued to bask, remaining patiently still in his happy place.
As though he’d suddenly forgotten that he’d had an engagement to keep, he turned on his clumsy feet and tottered across my asphalt driveway in my opposite direction. I assessed his every move, lamenting the poor thing’s weighted burden; the awkwardness of his legs’ movement from underneath his shelled exterior.
Having come upon the seemingly insurmountable barrier of a concrete step alongside the asphalt, he displayed no hesitation – no fear and no question of his ability to scale this obstacle with the potential of delaying his journey.
I continued to watch in curious amusement as the ancient reptile slowly and awkwardly lifted one chunky leg toward the top of the step, and the second front leg in subsequent and anticipated lift.
The poor thing must have miscalculated his agility and he toppled over backward onto his shell, rocking rhythmically back and forth in helpless suspension.
And then the poor creature widdled all over himself. Caught between wanting to laugh and cry, and forever the sufferer of St. Jude syndrome – the need to save everything and everyone in the world from harm or pain – my first instinct was to rush to the turtle and lend a helping hand to get him back on his feet.
But I refrained in my assistance and watched to see what the little turtle would do next. Having spent the time on this earth that he had, I assumed confidence that he’d been in this position before and had obviously found a solution to get himself back on the right track.
I was spot on in my assumption and, in no time, he was back on all fours – motoring away from me in quest of his nest or dinner.
Once my pity of the queer thing had subsided, I began to think about the creature’s life in general – as I do with EVERYTHING. Overthink, analyze, evaluate, reconcile…
You get the point.
In virtually every element, I construct a comparison; a “‘what would I do in those shoes?'” analogy. The process isn’t necessarily scientific. In fact, it is most overwhelmingly a tug-of-war between heart and mind. What would I think about this vs. what would I feel about this?
The very first thing that sprang to my mind was: “he’s not queer.” In fact, his entire structure is quite ingenious. Though his gait is hindered, its purpose served is invaluable. His moderated speed is the price he pays to be protected. Predators in his environment – unless adamantly determined – will tire quickly of plucking at, picking at, tapping at a hard shell that they’ve little chance of penetrating. And they will go away…and the little turtle will continue to totter along, perhaps shaken, but none the worse for wear.
Other more determined adversaries will fight the reptile’s exterior out of simple, or dumb, determination and eventually render a helpless state in lieu of a mortal end.
Some turtles’ shells are scratched, chipped – cosmetically displeasurable, yet still soundly intact and fully capable of performing its necessary function.
And therein lies the comparison.
Humans have shells. Perhaps not those worn upon our backs, but those purposely intended to protect us, nonetheless.
Emotional shells, physical shells, cosmetic shells define each individual’s capability, experience, equipment, and ability to survive the trials of the world.
Some know they have shells, but refuse to wear them.
Others shine their shells so brightly that they are sickening to look upon.
Then there are others who display proudly their shells – disfigured, faded, and marked with the signs of wear and time and battles as they may be. Those shells are signs of unrelenting defense against that which is oppressive, of survival, and of strength.
The survival of the fittest that Charles Darwin determined exists in mankind.
Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”.
Unlike turtles who are relegated to most, if not all, of their lives in the shells they were born with, humans have the ability to strengthen, shed, and change their shells – their perceptions, their actions, their decisions – to respond to the ever-shifting world in which they survive.
I sport my own very unique shell with its own collage of scratches, dents, and imperfections. It has served me well for the most part and throughout my life, I have quickly learned when to peek my head out of its interior and when to retreat to the safety of its hardness.
There are many occasions on which I have rocked helplessly, having been unwittingly tipped off my feet and to the back of my shell. During those times are when I have educated myself in the art of flipping back to my feet and continuing my journey that have begun the freshness of a new mark on my shell to signify the experience.
Few have been those that I have entrusted with entering the space of my shell, and none that I would be able to attribute to being of assistance when I thought I would rock forever on the back of it.
I consider myself fortunate bearing the shell that I do and of the compliments that it has received during my lifetime, for it is one that I have forged, and one that I have decorated with my own adventure and my own path taken.