Our family loves turtles. It's a group love affair. When we see them, we all smile. We watch them with focused concentration until they disappear under the surface of the water or under a bush. When we see them swimming in ponds or climbing up on logs sticking up out of water, we stop and stare and take photos. When we see them crossing roads, we stop and pick them up and carry them to safety. Once we were on the off ramp of a local highway, speeding along at 60 miles per hour, and we saw a turtle. A big one. On the off ramp. If there wasn't a line of cars following closely, we would have stopped, and one of us would almost definitely have been killed trying to protect that turtle.
Two weeks ago, I left home for an early morning stroll to Starbucks. Backpack on. Camera at hand. As I passed two nearby ponds, I spotted a few of our favorite mobile home residents - turtles, I mean.
The funniest thing about taking these pictures was that as soon as I closed the lens and put my camera back into its pouch, the turtles slipped into the water and out of sight. Within seconds of being captured in these images, my hard-covered friends faded from view.
Which got me to thinking... how many of my friends, my human friends, that is, are like my turtle friends?
* Some of them cluster together and bask together in the sunlight of the friendships they share in a group. I once attended a conference for bloggers out in San Francisco, and most of the folks there were fantastically open and friendly. But there were also a few cliques, gaggles of gals who,when I approached, tried to join the conversation or asked what they were talking about, they disappeared, dispersed, ran and hid.
* Then there are the danger-seekers. The ones who separate from the group and cross through dangerous territory into still more dangerous territory. Just as I do when I see a turtle crossing a four lane road, I wonder about my fearless friends, "Where are you going? What do you think you are going to find on the other side of the road that doesn't exist where you already are?" And like the nosy interloper I am wont to be, I intervene, intercede, and try to rescue people that have not asked me - or anyone - to save them. Not surprisingly, those people scurry away as quickly as their turtle-icious legs will carry them.
* Some of them remain at a distance, never allowing me to get too close, and as soon as I reach out with an email or attempt to make contact by text or telephone, they disappear under the water line. Perhaps they are afraid I will do them harm or capture them and put them into a tank and deprive them of their precious freedom. Truly, I come in peace.
* But I save my best hunting, haunting, and manipulating skills for the people in my life who allow me to get close for a while and then pull back and choose to stay hidden in their shells. Unwilling to accept that everyone has as much right as I do to withdraw, to withhold, to pull back, to hold back, to be elusive, to be alone, I prod and probe and pick and pull and beg and plead and pester until, you guessed it, the friend in question retreats into the shell that each of us has been given in order to protect our soft underbellies, our tender and sweet spots.
* The turtles I like best, however, the ones I am most proud to have come to know, are the ones that are firm on the outside, soft on the inside, the ones that feel soft in my hands, and firm in my mouth. The outer shell of these turtles falls to small pieces with the slightest pressure from my teeth, and the insides slide smoothly across my tongue and down my throat.
Have you ever eaten a turtle? Have you?
My favorites are the ones made with milk chocolate and pecans.
No dark chocolate for me.
Did you think I was talking about eating a turtle, a real turtle?
* Seriously, from the many turtle types that have crept and crawled across the road that is my life, I am learning the most important lesson of my life: to mind my own business. One of my new favorite sayings is this: "It's not my story. It's your story."
I want some friends to be more attentive, more responsive, more available to me and for me. I want my children to act and look and speak and perform certain things in a certain way by a certain time. Same thing with my husband, my mother, my three brothers, my neighbors, my pastors (who are destined to become my ex-pastors!), and nearly everybody in my life.
But it's their story; it is NOT my story.
I have given up chasing the turtle-friends that want to hide.
I have given up rescuing the wounded and sick ones.
I have given up trying to join teams of turtles that turn and dive underwater when I approach.
I have given up protecting the thrill-seekers.
To all my turtle friends out there, please forgive me for any and everything I have done to cause you harm or make you feel endangered. My turtle hunting days are behind me. I say it again: I come in peace.
Here's my current story: I have turned my turtle-friend-people hunting skills to the far more enjoyable and rewarding pursuit of turtle statues and turtle welcome mats. Here are two I found in Rome a couple of years ago.
Traveling mercies to all my shell-bound buddies.
Take good care of your hides, I mean, your shells.