This was the question that I was confronted with, early in the morning today! After the usual procrastination and unwillingness to do the right thing, finally I dragged myself for an early morning walk. After a hot summer day, followed by heavy over night showers, the weather was cool and enticing for a nice walk. There is a medium-sized pond near our house. In the middle of the over grown and thickly populated suburban developments, the pond is protected by a nice nature walk trail. But, a small section of the pond abuts the main road. The side-walk protects the pond and its natural settings for this small section. As I hurried along with a brisk walk on the side-walk, my eyes caught the sign of an unusually large object, like a large stone. The closer I got to it, I saw a live turtle, with its head projecting up, with its eyes fully open and its tail wagging! It was a turtle, with a shell that was oval, about twelve inches in the minor axis and about eighteen inches in the major axis. As my normal instinct would suggest, after a quick glimpse, I walked past this live turtle. But, slowly my mind started churning and the question kept coming back to my mind: What should you do, when you see a turtle on the side-walk?
I might have walked about fifty yards past the spot, where I had spotted the turtle. This is not something usual. I have walked along this side-walk scores of times. Never had I seen any turtle, let alone one of this size. Was it really a turtle? Was it really a live turtle? I had to be sure. Instinctively, I turned back and walked up to the spot. Yes, it was indeed a live turtle! It must have strayed past its normal habitat. It was close to the road, with substantial traffic during the day, even though the road was relatively quiet with no one in sight at that moment. Now that I am convinced that my eyes were not fooling me, the question returned to mind: What should you do, when you see a turtle on the side-walk?
Not much. It is all part of nature. After this conclusion I turned back and resumed my normal walk. But, my mind kept churning. Clearly the turtle is out-of-place. It does not belong here. When you are in a place, where you do not belong, it may be by chance; it may be for reasons or circumstance beyond your control; or it may be a deliberate and will full choice. Do we know why we are at a given place at a given time? This is part of reflection, analysis and contemplation. Our understanding on the anatomy of our experience comes in very handy to get a better handle on why we are at a given place at a given moment.
It appears that the lonely turtle, reasonably well-grown and hence belonging to this area, has some how strayed off its course. Its continued presence on the side-walk may be OK, but further straying into the road could be harmful. What should you do, when you see a turtle on the side-walk? My logic and reasoning suggested that I should coax this turtle into safety, by guiding it into the nearby marsh land and into the banks of the pond. In spite of such reasoning, I decided to turn back and continue my walk. One can always explain why we do certain things, after the fact. But, self-control is the ability to explain your decision, before you take it.
At this moment I had acted as if by impulse, rather than by choice. Whenever your action is not based on reasoned choice, you can always feel the call of your inner voice. My mind was not at ease. I kept looking back to see if any other early morning walker would see or stumble on the turtle. I kept looking for some one in front, whom I could caution and urge them into action. But none could be seen in either direction. My thoughts turned to the many disabled and home less, who find themselves on the side-walk, because they are lost or have strayed away. I have passed by so many, just as I have strolled past this turtle on the side-walk. May be I should pay more attention to such situations in the future? I was also reminded of the situations, where I have stood up, when it mattered to those, who felt like they were out-of-place. I was also remembering the situations where others have stood by me, to be sure that I did not feel out-of-place. Mind is a powerful instrument. It can gather so many thoughts and process them so quickly! But, today I had not followed the course of action required for that moment!
But, who decides where any one or anything belongs? I have never seen any turtle in this area. Is this a turtle that has strayed far away from its home? Even though I have walked around the pond many times, I decided to take the nature trail one more time today. This will give me a chance to loop around and get back to the turtle and send it to safety. As I strolled along, I picked up a stick fallen off from an oak tree. I trimmed it for a length of about four feet, long enough to be used as a tool, in case I needed one to push the turtle away into its safety. As my walk continued, I saw a couple walking their two pet dogs. The stick in my hand was not a welcome sight for these dogs! Now I was the person in a place, where I did not belong, at least according to these dogs!
“Have you seen the turtle on the side-walk?” I asked the couple, attempting to explain the reason for my carrying the stick. The man replied, “I have not seen it. But, I have seen many turtles in this walking trail”, with a hand gesture that suggested the size of the turtles, much larger than what I had seen on the side-walk! “What?” I asked myself, since I had never seen a single turtle in this area, until today. May be the turtle I saw, is very much native to this pond and its shores?
I quickly rushed to the spot, after walking around the pond in a full circle. It must have been about thirty minutes since I first sighted the turtle. Much to my amazement, I did not see the turtle there, any more. I looked cautiously on the road for any signs of road kill, none was seen. It was clear that the turtle must have continued its stroll and hopefully for its safety as well. I felt relieved. I went home.
We are all part of nature. Opportunities present themselves to do the right thing. If we act promptly, we avail ourselves of such opportunities. But, the nature is not relying on any one to engage in its course. The nature merely exists. Engagement into any action, especially appropriate action as called upon by the moment is purely a matter of choice.
No one but me had seen this turtle, at this place during these morning hours. It will be my experience, known only to me! Hence the relief experienced with the belief that the turtle has moved to a safer place, pertains to me and no one else! But, I was beginning to doubt myself. Did I really see that live turtle on the side-walk? Many years ago, as I was driving on a highway, I saw a school of turtles crossing the road. I had to break and wait until these rows of turtles finished crossing the road. I had not seen that before or after. Till to date, I recall this experience but also wonder if that was indeed real? All our experiences are real, when they occur. Before or after, they are all a matter of perception!