Neither length nor speed determines the obstacles of one’s journey.
Once, when I was bicycling through the hills of Indiana, I came across a turtle in the road. This wasn’t a particularly odd encounter; there were a number of ponds, not to mention the creek itself which ran to the Ohio River near the road I traveled. Turtles, snakes, even the proud hawks would make their presence known from time to time, along with the frisky squirrels and socially clueless deer that are present in virtually every neighborhood. Turtles, in particular, have a funny name around these parts: “Nature’s Little Speedbumps.”
I’m sure the meaning isn’t lost on anyone.
In any case, the turtle was in the middle of the road, locked in his shell, surely for fear of becoming an addition to the moniker. Being in none too much of a hurry, I scooped him up and put him a little ways into the grass by the pond towards which he’d been oriented, and went about my merry.
Surely, thousands of turtles like that one cross roads unseen, like little armored ninjas (no; I refuse to call them any synonym of adolescent), on a quest to find the greener grass on the far side. We only notice the ones that get caught, the ones that go at just the wrong time. And then, there they sit, locked tight in their shells.
Today, I think I understand how those turtles feel.
The recent move was a shock, not just because I’m in an entirely new city with new contacts and challenges and a social strata I must endeavor to integrate myself with, but because I spent a whole year out in the country with nary any human contact when I willed it. It was a chore to go into the city. It was business that brought me to meet my friends and colleagues.
Now, I live in the heart of the Central Business District; one can imagine the sensational difference of these two locations. I cannot get away from people. I have disconnected from nature (unless you count the humidity). The shock—of culture, of people, of the little negotiations between souls that make living in today’s urban environment possible—was so jarring, left me so raw, that I realized only recently that I was operating with a level of fear unlike anything I had ever felt before.
Oh, I didn’t look scared, by any who saw me. I smiled and laughed and joked with the best of them. But it was all built on a foundation of crippling, paralyzing fear. I was so deathly scared, I don’t even know of what, that I didn’t so much as go outside for days on end at some points. I didn’t want to be a part of that world. I didn’t want to be in that place. I didn’t want to be around those people. So I would watch the city go by from the far side of a window and make believe that I was in my own world, separate from it all. I would retreat into social media and virtual reality—trying to be any place but where I was.
I wanted to write this piece for two reasons. One, because while the big reveal that I’m about to drop is arguably common sense knowledge, anyone who’s been in this situation will tell you that there’s a wide gap between knowledge and experience. The second is because the thing that helped me the most was knowing that I wasn’t alone—that I wasn’t a freak or a failure or even an anomaly. The few dear friends that I spoke to about this relayed their own stories about similar experiences and the exact same feeling. So even if it’s common sense knowledge, it’s still something that can’t be beaten with brains alone.
The turtle in the road, observed, becomes the object of one simple thought: move. Despite its shell, despite its armor, despite all of the gifts Nature bestowed upon him, if that turtle does not move, his death is only a question of time. By car or predator, he will find an answer not to his liking; and yet, armed with this knowledge, the turtle still does not move. Scream at it, shout at it, wave flags and blare horns; all it does is make the turtle crawl deeper inside himself. All it needs is some time, right? Time, and courage—or a helpful bicyclist to come along and scoop it off the road—but we can’t always count on those, can we?
Today, I took my first bike ride in this new city, on a trail on the far side of the Lake. On the way back, I saw a turtle crossing the trail. My company and I split and went around it. I didn’t stop to pick him up, because I don’t think he needed it. As I looked back, I saw that shortly after we had gone around him, he poked his head back out of his shell, picked up his armor, and went about his merry.
And now, I think I understand how that turtle feels, too.