It will forever be emblazoned in my memory as one of the more pitiful images I have ever seen. It was one of those events that totally catch you by surprise and the sheer image of it shocks you.
In the late 1980s I was driving, where I do not recall, and saw a lady out of her car on the side of the road. Being the chivalrous type (or not too bright, take your pick), I stopped to offer my assistance. She was extremely emotional. My first thought was that someone was injured. After a few seconds I realized she had stopped because she had hit an animal with her car. I thought perhaps it was a dog or cat or some animal from the wild she had hit. When I walked around her car, I saw the strange, pitiful sight. She had run over a turtle. The animal was not dead and not seriously injured, so to speak. The strange thing was that the animal’s shell was totally cracked open, leaving the turtle totally exposed to the elements. It was, as I have said, pitiful.
A gentleman who lived in the area walked over to see what was happening and to offer his assistance. We were on a back country road which made the gentleman sort of a backwoods-type of guy who was well familiar with wild life and the like. He quickly explained to us that in his experience, which I deemed considerable, this animal was doomed. He said we really had two options. We could allow the turtle to go free, which would probably mean a very painful death by a scavenger or being hit by another car. The other option was he would return to his home, bring his gun (I am a born-and-bred southerner) and we could “humanely” kill the animal quickly. After some discussion, we opted for the second choice. The lady who had hit the turtle left the scene, being totally unable to cope with what was to transpire.
All in all, the incident was a bit surreal.
These years, looking back, I think many, if not most, people I have known are like that turtle. We have been injured in life and we feel exposed, vulnerable and, well, pitiful. What we do next is interesting. We grow another shell. It will be thicker and tougher than the original one. But we are not going to be exposed like that again. We choose to just live in our shell rather than risk it, come out, and be exposed.
What in life has injured you? It may be something totally devastating. It probably is something that cuts deep into your core and would you so badly that you simply refuse to reach again. You say things like, “This isolation hurts terribly, but it hurts less than the exposure and injury! So I will remain in my shell. It is much safer here. It is just easier not to risk it.”
You know what? You are right. It is safer inside that shell. It is also very lonely. It is dark and dreary. It is just plain NO FUN!
How do I know? I have a shell of my own. Sometimes I like it in there. It is small and confining but I know it well and I feel a bit safer. Sometimes I absolutely hate it inside there and scream to get out. But there is that pitiful turtle image that comes to my mind. What if I am ravaged by someone while exposed? What if I end up roadkill on the streets of life?
Yeah, what if?
I know the risk is great. Sometimes it is too great. But I also know I know the rewards of stepping out are huge. My friend, Jesus, is not asking you to come out of the shell to Him. Jesus is coming to be with you in your shell. He wants to come where you are and help your heal and then you can walk together.
The Rev. Dr. Terry Mann is pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Sharon.