Monday, May 23, 2016

Sticking Our Necks Out

Carolina box turtle after I put him safely on the side of the road.
In honor of World Turtle Day, May 23:

While driving through winding, mountainous roads in East Tennessee, this traveling ecumenist found the traveling turtle. At least, I think he was traveling, and I really don't know if it was a "he" or "she," but for the sake of simplicity I will just keeping calling him a "he." 

He was curled up in his shell about 2/3 of the way across the road. 

I remember learning that many turtles are killed when attempting to cross roads and that we ought to help.

I initially drove away. I wanted to help, but what could I do? I didn't know what I was getting into, and I figured prudence is best in such a situation, I reasoned, or perhaps rationalized. I was not sure how treacherous road conditions were or what might jump out of the ditch and bite me.

Some might say that I could come dangerously close to voiding my "country boy" roots in saying this, but I would disagree--it is precisely because I am from the country that I know not to interact with wildlife without knowing what I am getting myself into. Handling unfamiliar wildlife is one of those things you just don't do.

My conscience eventually got the best of me, and I drove back.

Turtles are serious causalities of our highway system. The least we can do is help them across now and then. I remembered reading in an article somewhere in the back of my memory that if you spot a turtle on the road, pick it up by the back of the shell and move the turtle to the side of the road in the direction it seems to be going.

I was still tentative about reaching down and picking him up, so I found a stick and scooted him along into a relatively level grassy area by the side of the road. After a long while, he stuck his neck out. I took that as a good sign that he was alive and well.

A mentor of mine told me once: "People are like turtleswe only move forward in life by sticking our necks out." This little guy seemed ready to move forward.

Native Americans and other religious traditions find resonance seeing themselves in the animals around them. Whether your faith tradition understands this as a direct reincarnation or just a model for our personalities, I think there is great value in exploring these relationships.

Someone once told me that the turtle is a spiritual guide for me. When I first heard that, I was taken aback. I saw this as negative. Aren't turtles slow animals who hide in their shells? It took me a while to admit and accept that the turtle is indeed my spiritual animal guide, at least one of them, and that this is an extremely good thing.

The turtle gets a bad rap. What does it mean to be a turtle? Old soul. It withdraws. It is awkward in this world, true--but here is what turned it around for me: It is graceful and agile in the waters (i.e. the spiritual realm). It is slow and steady with a strong moral compass.

The turtle doesn't speak to every part of me, but where it's true, it's really true, and the turtle has been a great guide for me. I have learned to embrace this part of me.

It is interesting the ways that an animal guide can manifest in your life. You'd have to know me well to see the turtle side. If you see me working, I rarely sit down, I'm always moving. I've been called the Energizer Bunny. I don't seem very turtle-esque at first glance. But deep down, the turtle is there guiding me. My sense of purpose, standing my ground in that, my sense of right and wrong, taking a project and progressively moving it forward. I may be energetic on the surface, but at the deepest levels of myself, I'm slow and steady in who I am and what I stand for.

In some senses, I'm the opposite--I'm not very withdrawn in political debates, for example!  But I do withdraw and freeze up in a lot of settings, for sure. I admit that's not my favorite part of myself. Yes, the turtle does hide in his shell, but you know what? He also stands his ground.

Traditionally, the turtle is symbolic of the way of peace, whether it’s inviting us to cultivate peace of mind or a peaceful relationship with our environment.

  • Symbol of the world, of the Earth
  • Ability to stay grounded, even in moments of disturbances and chaos
  • Slowing down, pacing yourself
  • Determination, persistence
  • Emotional strength and understanding
  • Ancient wisdom

  • I think another animal guide for me is the wolf:  Fierce. Mystical. Loyal. Family-oriented. I've been called a coyote at times.... a bit of a loner with entrepreneurial tendencies, a la Wiley E. Coyote. I feel a lot resonance there, too.

    But today is a day to remember the turtles around us, inside us and those guiding us!

    Happy World Turtle Day on May 23!


    1. You should read this book: