It is better to let nature take its course
"Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out." -- James Bryant Conant
"Anytime you see a turtle up on top of a fence post, you know he had some help." -- Alex Haley
The sunlight glinting off its back caught our attention first. Then, we noticed it moving in and out with the tide. What was that small, round, dark object several yards ahead of us on the Outer Banks of North Carolina?
Walking closer, we discovered, much to our surprise, a baby turtle, alone, apparently trying to make its way to the sea. Its legs, tail, and even head seemed to work in animated and vigorous motion in its attempt to swim to the deeper waters. With each effort of forward motion, the tide would push it right back to its starting point. Watching with great curiosity, we took in the scene, as Mother Nature appeared to hit the "do over" button repeatedly.
"I want to help it, Mom. I want to carry it out past the tidal line into the deeper water."
My daughter spoke with earnest, genuine concern on her face.
"You can't interfere with nature, as much as you would like. The turtle has to work this out for itself. There's a lesson for the turtle to learn in this seemingly hopeless moment."
That was early June. Since then, I have reflected on this scene, and replayed it in my mind often. Initially, this occurrence was a source of inspiration. An image I am hoping to conjure up during periods of personal struggle. Additionally, since my teenage daughter witnessed this extraordinary act and was extremely moved by it, I am further hoping it will be mental symbol of perseverance for her as she begins her second year of high school.
Sadly though, I am close to a few situations in which I am witness to friends and family struggling in the proverbial tides of life, such as death, divorce, difficult (even demeaning) relationships, or demanding careers. Like the baby turtle, these loved ones are continually trying to get past the tide's edge; however, the harder they swim forward, the more life keeps pushing them back onto shores of land they wish to leave. Furthermore, I feel the call to action -- to gently lift these loved ones past the troubled water and carry them beyond the riptides of life to the calmer waters of the future.
As minute as that baby turtle was -- so tiny, in fact, it would have fit in the palm of one of my hands -- I believe God, the Universe, Mother Nature have hard-wired within that creature the desire to focus on future days. Therefore, in my mind, it only stands to reason that this same drive and determination must dwell within humans. Reflecting on that infant turtle's journey, it had to initially survive not being eaten by the hundreds, if not thousands of shore birds that call the northern beaches of the Outer Banks their home. Furthermore, think of all the other predators that might have raided that turtle's nest; and yet, that young turtle found a way around life-snuffing marauders. Even as it began its journey from its nest on the dune, this babe still had to cross a beach full of the same predators and birds as well as humans walking, running, and driving vehicles across the turtle's pathway. Did it dodge and dart, or did it simply pause and withdraw each time a threat came near? No matter the technique, it somehow managed to successfully reach the tide.
Similarly to my loved ones, this turtle-toddler was repeatedly hit with one dreadful wave after another. Thus, as my daughter and I stood on the shore of the Outer Banks feeling frustrated and powerless to help that turtle, I too must stand by my loved ones feeling thwarted and incapable of offering much help. It is their own life waters through which they must independently maneuver. I am therefore left to stand on the shore with them and bear witness to their struggle, and perhaps that is enough.
I once remember watching a young girl caught in a riptide. Her parent, though probably inwardly frantic, ran along the shore shouting out directions to the girl.
"Don't fight the current sweetheart. Relax and let it carry you down shore. It will eventually let you go. I'm right here with you Babe. I'm right here."
And so this young mother jogged along the shore, repeatedly calling out words of encouragement. The daughter continued to drift for what must have felt like an excruciatingly long distance. How painful must it have been for that mother to only be able to watch? Her daughter had to ride out the horrific journey on her own. Ultimately, the riptide, as all riptides do, ended; and the daughter was able to walk to the shore into the arms of her waiting parent.
Likewise, I must remain on the shore, for my loved ones. I can call out encouragements and reminders of future days. Futures days beyond the riptides. Future days of still, smooth waters. Future days of a new shore; and the assurance that those who matter most will welcome you with open arms.
Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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