Over the years, I feel fortunate to have connected with many different animals. Certainly I’ve connected with cats – having lived around cats since I was an infant, I can count many friends that are cats. Along the way, I’ve also met many dogs I’ve felt a connection to; Hannah, Louis and Lucky are among my dog friends.
It’s been thrilling to swim with turtles while snorkeling in Hawaii. Their effortless movements make it look like they’re flying in the water, and I always feel like I’m in the presence of old wisdom when I’m around them.
It would probably be an overstatement, though, to count these turtles as friends. It would be akin to attending a ‘Stones show, and referring to the lead singer as Mick. Not uncommon, perhaps, but presuming a closeness that probably isn’t reciprocal.
It wasn’t until this morning that I felt a connection to a tortoise. I’m still saddened by the circumstances surrounding our brief friendship, but grateful to have been in the presence of this old, wise being.
My daily commute involves a stretch of divided highway. Traffic zips along, but in a surprisingly orderly way. Madison fancies itself a larger city than it really is – the 65mph speed limit is largely obeyed on this stretch.
I saw the tortoise creeping its way onto the shoulder, and immediately turned my car around at the next interchange. I had a blanket in the back of the car that I’ve used to carry other tortoises across the road, and hoped I could zip back there before the tortoise got onto the roadway.
This tortoise was on a mission, though, and as I was headed to the next turnaround, I saw the flurry of cars swerving and veering to avoid the tortoise. SHIT – it was already in the road!
Semi-trucks were swerving, cars were veering and it seemed everyone was hoping for the best for the tortoise. But as you can imagine, someone did not see it, and the worst did happen. It was an awful sight, and the thought of it still feels like a punch in the gut.
By the time I got to the tortoise, it was limping off the highway and back into the weeds. I was shocked and relieved that it was still alive, and held out hope it would be OK.
As I squatted next to the tortoise, it became evident that it was probably not going to be OK. Its shell had been cracked, and blood leaked out from beneath. Despite its predicament, it looked up at me with a softness and kindness that I never would have attributed to a reptile.
I’ve long considered reptiles to be, uhh… reptilian. Cold. Distant. Other.
Perhaps I was projecting, but in my bones I felt a heart connection with this creature. As we looked into each others’ eyes, its limping had already slowed. Clearly the tortoise was dying, and there we were, sharing this most intimate life-experience.
The tortoise had been dead for a minute or so when a man approached. He had witnessed the same situation unfolding, and had also been making a mad dash to save the tortoise. In that moment there were the three of us. One was dead, and the other two didn’t quite know what to make of this most intimate unfolding that had brought us all together.
Later in the day I was giving a Zero Balancing bodywork session. As I placed my hands beneath the client’s shoulders, holding another being’s body in my hands felt more rare and precious than ever. We’ve been entrusted with something so profound and filled with potential, and I offered thanks to the tortoise for its role in pointing this out.