turtle crossing

I was saving the diapsids long before you VSCO girls made it trendy by ditching plastic straws in your venti Starbucks cups.

A couple of years ago, driving along my small stretch of road, I saw a turtle up ahead, smack dab in the middle of it. I slowed down, pulled off to the side, and looked both ways before stepping foot onto the asphalt. It was a rather small turtle, just doing its business, taking its time to cross the road. That is until it saw me. One look at this lumbering dude and it withdrew its limbs into its shell.

I picked it up and asked it not to bite me as I slowly and gently walked it across the road in the same direction it was headed. I hoped it wasn’t the snapping kind. I didn’t know much about turtles but was it possible it could whip its head around, elongated and angry, ready to strike my palm with its powerful jaw? Thankfully it never peeped out of its head hole and let me taxi it to the other side. Once it was safely out of rubber harm’s way, I carefully set it down and stepped back a bit to see if it would come out of its shell. It eventually did and continued on its course.

I drive a lot and see a lot of dead animals in the road and it breaks my heart a little each time. I try to swerve to avoid as many as I can but not all animals can be avoided and it should always be done within reason. And I started to think about that “within reason” and realized most of us don’t apply that logic to our day-to-day lives and routine activities. Consideration, kindness, and good deeds are all lacking in society. I’ve often wondered where that breakdown started to begin. Surely it’s not just one factor but a multitude of reasons we’ve all become rancid.

One thing that I’ve noticed is we don’t seem to be taught how to give and receive love. We all feel alone and alienated and bullied and often that bullying comes from a lack of love on the aggressor’s part. We live in an iced coffee cancel culture where it’s popular to point out everyone’s flaws. We are quick to condemn an off-color comment but we don’t try to correct it. It’s instant damnation without education and no opportunity for growth.

It’s easy to write people off and think the worst of them because when we realize people can make mistakes, we have to face the reality that we also make mistakes. And that’s a hard pill to swallow because mistakes mean growth and change and it’s more comfortable being petty. We don’t expect people to do better because we don’t want to do better ourselves.

We openly hate others expecting no consequence but expect retaliation when someone hates us. We are taught suspicion, paranoia, and protection. But it really just boils down to fear and ignorance, two qualities that are not only tolerated by #45 but encouraged. Because when you can create, orchestrate, and control someone’s fear, you can stroll in as the savior and when people feel safe, they trust you. And when they remain ignorant and uneducated, they will never question you.

When I was in school learning about civil rights and segregation, I looked around at my mixed classroom, all shades of black and white, and I thought to myself, “I am so glad that’s all over.” I look back on that memory with a mix of fondness and embarrassment now because I was so naive and innocent and really thought racism was dead. If only it were true and if only I could still live in that fantasy world. But at the time, living in the south, I should have been old enough and astute enough to know better. I guess I always brushed off the random racist relative or neighbor as a one-off, some leftover ideology that hadn’t quite been eliminated yet. But my generation was better. My generation knew of tolerance and acceptance and did not listen to their small-minded elders. I was so wrong.

What I only came to recognize later on was that racism and bigotry never left us. Neither did sexism or homophobia. I just don’t think I’ve ever seen it displayed as openly and proudly as I do today. And when you put God into the mix, it’s an even more dangerous combination because now people can justify their hatred by hiding behind a religion. “I’m not pro-life. God is! I’m not pro-slavery. God is! I’m not pro-guns. God is!” Everyone is quick to claim religious freedom unless it has to do with the freedom to practice a different religion other than theirs. Then all of a sudden it’s a crusade against Christianity.

I’ve witnessed all this from afar and I’ve been guilty of apathy. As long as it wasn’t bothering me, I didn’t care too much. I figured it would all work itself out eventually. Good defeats evil, right? Actually, not at all. There is no force in the world that will help or shift the tide toward good. No force except the force that humans can exert to make those changes themselves. I don’t want to sit back and watch the world quite literally burn. I don’t want to see minority groups oppressed or omitted entirely. That’s not what I’ve grown up wanting to be. I’ve always wanted to help, to unite, to connect not only myself to other people but connect those around me.

It seems like a monumental task to try to save a world that already has one foot in the grave. And frankly, I don’t think I’m up for the task. But what I am up for is doing all that I can, this small, insignificant, fragile glass human, to try to make someone’s day better and hope that whatever good comes from that will then be delivered to someone else.

I guess it’s the little things that still matter, those niceties and favors that have gotten lost or forgotten over time. Like paying for someone’s coffee or giving a genuine thanks when someone hands you a burger through a drive-thru window or bags your groceries at the checkout line. When someone tells you a joke, when you ask how their day was, when someone breaks off a piece of candy for someone else to enjoy. It’s thinking about others, being considerate, taking the time and energy to do something for someone else, be it big or small. ‘Cause those little interactions can really make a big difference in someone’s day.

Maybe people don’t bother with manners anymore because many of us feel so insignificant ourselves that we feel we can’t make a difference in anyone’s day. That lending an ear or offering our skills or services wouldn’t be worth anyone’s time. But that’s just not the case. For example, I think I’m the biggest waste of space but that doesn’t impede me from trying to help others. I think it gives me a sense of purpose and helps me not feel so worthless. If I wasn’t there to make someone smile, maybe no one else would have come around either.

I’m glad I came around for that turtle because not long after I set it down to safety, a semi-truck came barreling by. It would have surely crushed that creature into the concrete had I not intervened. It was no inconvenience. It didn’t take more than a few minutes out of my day and I was glad to assist another animal in need. What I did might not change the world and maybe the turtle didn’t know it was destined for certain doom but moving it was a practice of showing mercy and concern for something else, something I need to do more of, something we all need to do more of, all in hopes that our slow and steady deeds might just add up to something significant.

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