Stopping for Turtles

Nancy - San Angelo, Texas
Entered on July 27, 2008

I believe in stopping for turtles crossing the road. When I was growing up, my father traveled extensively as a communication specialist for Texas A & M University. When I would hear his car driving into the garage, I would run out the door eager to throw my arms around his neck and to hear his news as our family gathered around the dinner table. His stories might include anything from memorable lines gleaned from the latest hit songs (“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind.”) to how he’d rescued yet another turtle slowly crossing a Texas highway. Even though he was usually in a hurry to reach his destination and got several speeding tickets through the years, he would take those few moments to stop and move the turtle to a safe place. And he didn’t limit his kindness to turtles. He once pulled a calf from a distressed cow who had somehow managed to get through a fence and was in labor in the bar ditch, and then he got the cow and calf back in the pasture before continuing his travels. Though she would chuckle, my mother began to give Dad ceramic turtles to commemorate such moments, and when I started to drive, I watched for small creatures and saved the occasional turtle. Later, I told my children about their grandfather and turtles, and they would see me stopping, too. Now adults, my children follow their grandfather’s practice.

My father, however, no longer drives but lives in an Alzheimer’s facility. The ceramic turtles sit on a small bookshelf. He walks slowly these days, and I often reach out a hand to steady him. Having spent his life communicating, his conversation is limited and repetitious, but his love and concern for his family remains. I see the other residents, mentally and physically fragile, processing life at a different speed from me. I hear through their incomplete sentences and garbled messages pleas for human recognition. And I wonder if they think I’m the one who’s slow as I make ineffectual responses. But then the touch of a hand or a gentle hug reassures them—and me.

I believe we humans are turtles who frequently find ignoring other turtles easy, especially the problematic ones. Yet under our own shells lies the need for someone to care enough to help us across the road, so I believe in stopping for turtles in whatever guise I encounter them.