A turtle is single-minded. Carrying his house on his back, he need not even plan a route home. When presented with danger, he does not bother deciding whether to fight or flee, he simply retreats into his armor, and waits for the danger to pass. Once he sets his mind to a goal, nothing else matters until he achieves it; he will crawl, slowly and patiently, towards destiny. I heard a story once of a turtle so intent on reaching a piece of lettuce, that he walked across a driveway full of crackling firecrackers, heedless of the chaos around him, never veering once. To the turtle, time passes differently. An action that would be instant for us takes time for a turtle, so he can’t help but notice the passage of time. As such, turtles are masters at living in the present, because their future could easily become someone else’s past.
I saw a turtle last week, crossing the path in front me. He gave no notice of me, but I, I noticed him.
I had been on a run, cutting through the nature trail between Mason-Montgomery Road and Kings Mills Road. While I run, I think, and that day I was thinking about all the tasks ahead of me on my to-do list. As a result, I was in a bit of a hurry; planning my route home to get me the required training distance without wasting too much time. Although my body was on that nature trail, my mind was a plurality of elsewheres. But then I saw that turtle, minding his business and crossing the trail. And he truly was minding his business; his whole mind was occupied with crossing that trail to get to the creek beyond. Cyclists whizzing by inches away, moms with strollers passing right overhead, engaged in their cell phones – none of this mattered to the mighty turtle; he had to get to the creek. His gaze wavered not once from the creek, and nothing could perturb him from his goal. His attention caught my attention, and I stopped to watch his progress.
Now, when watching something as slow as a turtle’s progress, something strange happens: the world seems to slow down for you, too. This turtle and I were captivated together in a snapshot of time – he, completely unaware of me, and me, fascinated by him. My mind and soul were stuffed bodily back into their vessel, an unfamiliar space, for they were used to existing abstractly, in no particular space, experiencing the actions of the body only vaguely, and secondhand. His journey so much more important to him than anything is to me, and yet – simple, mundane, uncomplicated. I asked myself: why must my own life be so complicated? Unable to come up with an answer that would satisfy the inexorable turtle, I decided to uncomplicate it.
I began my run – and my life – anew and refreshed. I took my time for once – not that I was running more slowly than before, but that I was truly experiencing and living in my time, my moment; I was taking advantage of my time. Trees went by around me, no longer a green blur, but each one unique, with its own story. The yellow dashes on the pavement suddenly had texture that they lacked only moments prior – even my breathing felt different. I was noticing each breath fill my lungs with sweet tasting air, air that cooled me as it welcomed my sweat back into it, air that tousled my hair. For once, I was living, so much better than merely existing.
As I got closer to home, I nearly lost my way because I didn’t recognize my surroundings. Past the old barn, red paint peeling from years of afternoon sun – but was that old Mustang always there? Faded red paint and rust of the same color, matching the barn, it was half reclaimed by the earth. It must have been there my whole life, and I must have passed it thousands of times, yet I only ever noticed the barn. Under the railroad bridge the road noise was both dulled and amplified, distorted by the iron and concrete. It was cooler too, the perpetual shade keeping the September heat at bay. Up the hill and past the factory, with its corrugated blue walls that never fully contained the noise of production. The workers were on break, eating and smoking at a picnic table painted company blue whose existence I would have denied moments ago. Turning East, I passed the bus hub where I noticed the engine block heaters for the winter months, stowed in a shed with windows covered in a beautiful patina of time. Around the corner and past the warehouse, I hopped the yellow gate across the road leading to my neighborhood, but for the first time I noticed the carvings of lovers’ names in the paint. The new carvings shone brightly, the metal beneath still reflective and fresh; the old ones stood out in ruddy red against the faded yellow, the rust in bold relief.
When I arrived home, my mom greeted me at the door. “Where were you honey?” she asked. “Well,” said I, “for once, I was here.”