I ran over a turtle one day not long ago. There was a speed bump in the road and a little brown mound right behind it that I caught a glimpse of too late. The second I ran over it, knew it was a box turtle. I stopped, heart racing, and ran back to find it flipped over, splayed, limp and motionless. If it’d been a cartoon turtle, its eyes would have been X’s and its little tongue would’ve been sticking out, but no, it was more horrible than that. I stooped to pick it up, sick with remorse, and placed it gently on the grass nearby—on the side of the road in the direction I think it had been going. I was sure it would not be walking anywhere again but might instead be food for the neighborhood crows. Oh dear turtle, forgive my carelessness, and driving too fast. Please forgive me!
Soon after, as I sat down shakily to work at my desk, my belief in horoscopes was affirmed. A brief on-target sentence came up on my newsfeed and inspired me to capture this:
May I learn all the ways in which I do not really see what is in front of me. All the ways I rush through you, past you, over you. May I learn to pause in your presence. May I learn that witnessing you is witnessing myself. The more I do one, the more I can do another. –Chani Nicholas
I carried the sinking feeling of destructive power, failed witness- heavy in my heart and plodded on with the various tasks of the day: a string of soul sucking e-mails, a nice piece of chocolate, a letter of gratitude from an old friend in the mailbox, a worried call from my mother. Hours later, I walked with the dogs back to the bloody spot on the road. We traipsed over to the grassy area where I’d left the lifeless body of the turtle earlier and couldn’t find it. I looked all around the area, my dogs nosing too. No bloody trail, or indentation in the grass. Could the crows have made quick work of the little turtle? Could a child have picked it up and taken it home to see if it could be nursed back to life?
Maybe the universe was letting me off the hook. Maybe, as in the famous Lillian Hellmann story about the partially butchered snapper that left a determined bloody trail from the author’s kitchen butcher block back to the nearby pond, Box Turtles are similarly indestructible, with the survival mojo of millennia in their DNA. Maybe this witness of death and potential resurrection was an invitation to witness the many little deaths and revivals of a single day. Soul on deck, the buzzer is always ready to blare. Life wants us to live, but it wants us to take our time too.
If my little near-dead boxie did indeed get plucked up into a tree to become food for the crows, then there is a prayer for that. Thank you for your life and making me pause, for taking me to a resting place between movement and stillness as I write these words, uncomfortable as they are…for helping me notice how I rush unawares, my killing powers, for reminding me that even tough shells can be broken…mine and yours. Forgive our bad timing (yours and mine), and stay safe in your home, wherever that might be now.