We need a healthy dose of what God gave turtles: the gifts of grit and gumption.
June 26, 2013
News Item: Further study of the turtle genome could yield clues related to human health and well-being, particularly oxygen deprivation, hypothermia and longevity.
Why did God make turtles?
Turtles – at first glance, at first thought — seem useless, clueless.
Seem like a mistake.
A colossal, man-made mistake, not something God would do.
They try to cross multi-lane streets during rush hour traffic while multi-ton vehicles hurdle down on them at lightening speed.
They’re so slow that the hares have for an eternity run, spun circles around them.
They have the look of something put together by a splintered, bombastic government committee.
That’s one way of sizing them up.
But look again.
Turtles, with their hard shells — their knock-knock-anybody-in-there? shells — carry along their own protection, their own all-weather, all-seasons homes.
They know when to stick their necks out.
And when to quickly pull them safely back inside.
They proudly hold their necks up high. But just high enough to see what they need to see, do what they need to do.
But not so high that they poke their noses into shameful, tempting, intoxicating hubris.
Even when they get flipped upside down, as children sometimes delight in doing to them, they know how to put themselves aright – no matter how long, how difficult the struggle to do that might take, might be.
They come with their own heating and air conditioning system, their own GPS.
They persevere. You’ll see. If you have the patience to just watch them, observe them.
Oh, to be sure, they do get there long, long after the hare. But where the fast-paced hare arrives exhausted, with rapidly-beating heart and in need of immediate, prolonged rest, the turtle arrives cool, calm, collected, composed.
Ready to do what the turtle came to do.
Maybe, just maybe, Sir Winston Churchill had been observing the turtle for some time – sitting, perhaps, in some favorite, comfortable chair, cigar clutched in teeth, there at his restful, peaceful, tranquil Chartwell in Kent, England – when a turtle ever so slowly made its way across the lawn in front of him, inspiring Winnie to really look, to really see, to conjure up those words which live to this day:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never . . .
While arrogant mankind ridicules the turtle and boastfully measures mankind’s expected lifetime in growing decades, some turtles measure theirs in centuries.
So much for mankind’s superiority.
Slow? Odd looking? Dumb?
Turtle soup for supper?
Crawling, silent dispenser of life lessons?
Giving wisdom as it inches along on its powerful legs – lessons in perseverance, self-reliance, courage.
Maybe gumption most of all.
Never giving up.
Never giving in.
Even reminding of that sometimes forgotten virtue of humility.
Maybe bringing with it a still significant, unspoken message that God had purpose and was sending along a few common sense pointers for mankind when he made the turtle.
Really, really look at the turtle.
Why did God make turtles?
Surely He did it with exacting, exemplary purpose, just as he did with his other countless creations.
Surely He did it in prime time, during those heralded first six creative days, when His genius especially shone.
Even if — at initial glance, at first impression — we might get the erroneous feeling He was just funnin’ us when He made the turtle, just engaging in a bit of mirthful, whimsical, self-amusing, pass-the-time, seventh-day-of-rest doodling.
But, blessing of blessings, wisely making it slow enough so that even we might get it.
The man struggles to enter the restaurant.
The large glass door is heavy, cumbersome.
A woman, assumed to be his wife, helps.
Together, they try to keep the door open.
Somehow, they maneuver the wheelchair-bound man above the estimated three-inch rise – a barrier, really — from the sidewalk and onto the restaurant floor. It is a struggle. But they get inside.
It is a hot summer day; he wears short pants, revealing his left leg has been amputated below the knee.
He wears a prosthesis.
The wife pushes her husband to a table, goes to the counter, places an order.
They eat, talk for a while.
When they are finished, she pushes him to the door of the men’s
room, holds the door open, he rolls inside.
It seems to be an awkward moment for her.
She waits outside the men’s room door.
She seems embarrassed.
Still, she does it.
As probably she has so many times before.
And will again.
And . . .
She pushes him to the restaurant exit door.
Again, they struggle to maneuver the wheelchair through the heavy door, down the three-inch-drop from the floor level of the restaurant to the sidewalk.
Slowly, they make their way to the family vehicle – a pickup with a lift in the back.
She pushes the wheelchair to the driver’s side door.
With obvious effort, with some time, he manages – with her assistance, there on the hot parking lot and with the temperature rushing in the direction of 100 degrees — to push and pull himself from the wheelchair and onto the seat of the pickup.
He gets the controls of the lift in the back of the pickup, guides the lift hook over the side of the pickup, lowers it toward the wheelchair.
His wife hooks the wheelchair onto the lift.
He uses the controls to lift the wheelchair and, with her help, swings it onto the pickup bed, lowers it into place.
For this moment, the wheelchair use struggle is over.
Until they get home, have to reverse the process.
Over, until they go out again.
They drive away from the restaurant.
How many times have they done this, to and from this and other places?
How many times will they do it again?
And . . .
Go through the difficulty of it all.
Like a turtle, the man has been flipped by life, flipped onto his back, left to struggle and struggle and struggle to try to aright himself, as have some of those about him – though to a lesser extent — who try to help him deal with it.
Results of a war injury?
A medical problem?
A traffic accident?
I do not know.
What I do know is that he and those about him face it, confront it, deal with it.
Not only with the physical effects of it, but with the mental demands, difficulties and challenges of the mind and spirit that surely accompany it.
Deal with it as best they can.
The struggle goes on.
As do they.
And as so many others do.
Sometimes, people get flipped onto their backsides – physically, mentally, spiritually, financially. Maybe in other ways.
But, like a flipped turtle, they manage – many of them, anyhow, maybe most of them — to persevere, until they somehow aright themselves.
Time after time.
Struggle upon struggle.
Aright themselves. And move on.
(One in an occasional series on “Why Did God . . . ?)
Roger Summers is a journalist and essayist who spends time in Texas, New Mexico, England and a world of curiosity and creativity. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.