The Turtle My Teacher
I had passed over the cattle guard at the predawn hour to head out on an errand. I thought there was a big rock stuck in the cattle guard. I went on about my way but on the way back, I stopped and zoomed in on the rock. It turned out to be a sizeable turtle who had obviously tried to cross the cattle guard and ended up stuck face down in a position that it could not free itself. Its normally adept feet were struggling in every possible direction but were not near enough to the metal bars to do any good. I could have ignored this turtle’s predicament and pain. Instead, I lent a hand. I saved a life by taking time to care for this poor creature. The struggle turned to liberation.
I began to think of the difficulties and struggles we face in our lifetimes, and of our ever-so-often needs to struggle for some kind of liberation. We, too, are turtles in a cattleguard.
Brene’ Brown says in her book, Braving the Wilderness, “Courage is forged in pain, but not in all pain. Pain that is denied or ignored can become fear or hate. Anger that is never transformed becomes resentment and bitterness. Pain is unrelenting. It will get our attention.”
It is easy for me to want to avoid pain. But no matter how hard I try with whatever method that is in vogue for me, pain will find a way to make itself known. I know it will only have a chance to subside when I acknowledge it and care for it, addressing it with love and compassion. When we deny our painful emotions, they can own us. When we accept our emotions, it is possible to rebuild and find our way through pain. The goal is transformation.
I am also reminded of the current cultural and political situation in America. So many turtles in so many cattleguards! Some conflict cannot be resolved by just agreeing to disagree. At a certain point in time we must learn how to push through our vulnerability and stay civil.
But all is easier said than done. Our big problem today is the dehumanization of people that happens especially in large political arenas. It is fear fed and so very destructive. What to do? Here, too, transformation is needed.
Brown offers some helpful language. She speaks of conflict transformation rather than conflict resolution. Conflict resolution indicates someone winning and someone losing, or returning to a previous state of affairs. But conflict transformation suggests creatively navigating the conversational landscape of difference and disagreements in order to create something new. Brown says, at a minimum, we must learn more about each other than we knew before and might find possibilities that create deeper understanding. That requires perspective-taking, which gives a chance for greater connection whether there is agreement or not. This idea teaches me and inspires me. It helps me think of the idea in process theology that God finds God's way into our lives, not by force or coercion, but by novel possibilities to which we can respond: possibilities for saying "yes" to life.
Sometimes we ourselves can be vessels for those possibilities. We become sources of grace. But first we must pay attention and discover our compassionate hearts. Which takes me back to the turtle, my teacher.
I could have crushed the turtle with the truck tire if I had not paid attention. I could have ignored him and he may have died, becoming a feast for another critter. He could have suffered immeasurably. But I stopped. I got out. I freed the turtle from its predicament. Once he was free, he knew exactly what to do and how to do it. He really did not stop to say thanks, but his transformation was obvious. I almost imagined him doing a little jig as he plodded into the woods. And somewhere in the interstices of my heart, quietly, I did a little jig, too.
Prayer: Dear Lord, be Present with me and those I love in this day. Hold us close as we try to make sense of a world where genetics deal unspeakable sadness; where human error and trauma wreak havoc on hearts; where nature’s wildfires and storms destroy, and where we get hung up in cattle guards--some of our own making and some just because they are there. We pray for your transformative love to guide us in all things. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Amen
Also by Nita Gilger:
Loving in the Shadow of Alzheimer's
Learning from Rock Owls in Bryce Canyon
A Call to Deeper Places: The Owl as My Teacher
God, Are You Looking for Me?
Reflections on War and its Effects