Today, on my way home for lunch, there was a big turtle in the road. He was upside down. I had a choice; to go around him or stop.
I don’t like turtles. I can’t read their emotions so I feel blinded by them. Is it angry, frightened or apathetic laying there? The creature makes no noise, no pleas for assistance or warnings to get back.
I know how I would be feeling, laying in the road on my back in a drenching rain, so I act on that. That means stopping.
I park the car in the middle of the road at a slight angle to make it more obvious and pop my hazards on. The rain is gushing, and I’m not crazy about that either. I step out of the car to inspect this creature that, to be honest, repels me. He’s still alive, huge claws on powerful legs slowly searching the air for whatever did this to him. “It wasn’t me, buddy,” I say. He doesn’t care. He is just hurt.
I’m not sure what to do, and my mind races through all the things I’ve ever heard about injuries. I realize that I will have to grab this wet, hurt animal and move it out of the road. I really don’t want to. I’m on my lunch hour, in the rain. Moving it will surely hurt it more, even if that is his only chance. I don’t want to hurt it, get wet or spend my lunch hour doing this. I wonder if there is a 911 number for animals and decide I would have heard of it.
“Sorry,” I whisper. “Don’t snap my fingers off please.” I glance at his mouth as I carefully grasp both sides of his shell. He’s the biggest turtle I have ever seen and his mouth is a powerful beak that looks like it would clip a finger off as easily as a hedge trimmer. I shudder as I try to hold him as far away from me as possible and quickly, but gently, get him to the side of the road. His head lolls back and hangs from the shell like a wet sock and my stomach lurches.
I set him down in the grass by a guardrail and head back to my car. A line of traffic has formed on both sides of the road, watching me. As I come back to my car a woman rolls down her window and asks if I’m hurt. I tell her no and am surprised by how relieved she looks. I shouldn’t be surprised though. I would have loved to walk up on the turtle and find that all I had to do was right him and send him on his way.
I called an animal refuge and told them exactly where the turtle was and was told they’d come get him if they could. On my way back by I stopped again and took a photo of him I could post on Facebook, asking someone to please take this guy to help. I inspected him closer and saw his strong shell was shattered. I didn’t know what to do and found myself trying to decide.
I knew I couldn’t take the afternoon off to take him to the shelter, but if he had been a person no one would have questioned, including me. I found myself wondering when a life is deemed worth saving. Who decides the criteria? When does his beautiful day begin to hold as much value as mine and yours?
I still don’t like that turtle, but I’m crying for him. I try to shake it off and wonder if this is one of those turning points that find you living in a rain forest as a vegan two weeks later and then I remember I have steaks in the freezer. I dry my eyes and try to get a hold of myself.
“It’s just a turtle,” I tell myself. “I don’t even like turtles.” An image of a little girls face is in my mind. Her skin is dark brown and I know if she spoke to me I wouldn’t understand her. She’s one of the kidnapped school girls I saw on the news, and I realize why I’m crying.
It is just a turtle, and she is just a girl, but the pain and fear they feel is the same. I think of gas chambers and rapists, abandoned babies and abused dogs and wonder where the line is, and who draws it to say this life but not that one, these feelings but not those, are sacred. I wonder if we are getting worse or better as a race and I suddenly do have an urge to move to a rain forest and wash my hands of us, even myself.
Who decides what life is sacred? I wish I could say I had some powerful epiphany that makes the world return to its usual rosy orbit for me, but I don’t. All I can think is that I guess we each decide what life is sacred, every day. We decide if we will build or burn and the choice is a new one with every step we take, with every word that passes our lips and with every thought we think.
Who decides what life is sacred? Apparently, we do, all the time.
P.S. Many people think they are saving turtles when they relocate them from roadways but the opposite is true. A turtle has a homing sense and if you do not help him safely cross the road to where he was going he will turn around and go right back.
If you take him far away from his home and release him in what you might think is a safer area he will still want to return but now may stop eating and wander listlessly until he dies.
The best thing to do with a turtle in the road is to help him cross safely in the direction he was going and wish him luck. Don’t take my word for it, read more from the Turtle Rescue League.