The Way of the Turtle
by Christina Carson
I had an interesting experience on social media the other day. One episode of my serialized novel, Where it Began, rubbed someone the wrong way, hit them in a moment of frustration and provided the next best opportunity to rid themselves of a great deal of pent-up anger. One thing I enjoy about being older is that I am considerably more grounded than I was at that responder’s youthful age. I now have available a moment for reflection at such times, the one that in times past, I would have used to return bow shot for bow shot. In fact, in this particular explosion of a young man against religion, its rituals, its illogic and hypocrisy, I chuckled, caring, because my immediate flashback saw me in such a similar escapade at about that same age in my life.
I loathed religion then, not because its message bothered me, but because in that one area of life it seemed imperative to me that people walk their talk; yet people were so inept, and I was most unforgiving. I didn’t know then how hard it is not only to determine the truth but also live it. I didn’t know then that many people were trying, but were confounded by a message that had been seriously corrupted by politics, power and the toll that a whisper-down-the-lane transmission has on messages passed on in that fashion.
My church years ended for the next forty or so years, with a Sunday morning exchange with the pastor of the church in the small college town where I attended university. I still hoped this one might not disappoint. But the morning came when this minister, like all the others, said that baptism was essential for going to heaven. And my question arose once again about the fairness and loving-kindness of such a position. “You mean if you’re born where Christianity has not yet landed, you’re not welcome in heaven?”
The reply was terribly familiar, “That’s right.”
“You mean that if someone lives a good life, a prince among people and yet has not been baptized, he’ll be denied access?” (That was my then boyfriend’s situation.)
Again the stubborn stance of the church was restated, “Yes, that’s correct.”
And then it happened. I took a breath, glared into his eyes and said, in my cockiest manner, “That’s ridiculous, and that’s it. Good bye.”
I stomped down the remaining church stairs in search of a God that appeared to speak consistent with his message. Those next 40 years were quite the experience.
So fortunately this time, I didn’t reply in kind to the young man who was obviously in a similar state of disbelief as to a message that could have gotten so far afield from its original meaning. I merely said that he was entitled to whatever opinion he held, he just didn’t need to be rude.
I was touched when he wrote back, not because I wanted or needed an apology but because he didn’t run away, and even more touching, he returned to tell the truth of that moment, the exact behavior any savior, any sage, any Buddha would have lauded. In so doing, the connection between two disparate human beings was maintained; the integrity of the universe undisturbed.
The only true picture of our universe is one of the most elaborate displays of interconnectedness imaginable, and all it ever asks of us is to play within that paradigm, to recognize that oneness as the rule, and to enjoy the beauty of the encounters that result.
with gratitude for the wisdom of turtles:
…and you think of her patience, her fortitude,
her determination to complete
what she was born to do —
and then you realize a greater thing —
she doesn’t consider what she was born to do.
She’s only filled with an old blind wish.
It isn’t even hers but came to her
in the rain or the soft wind,
which is a gate through which her life keeps walking.
She can’t see herself apart from the rest of the world
or the world from what she must do every spring.
Crawling up the high hill,
luminous under the sand that has packed against her skin,
she doesn’t dream, she knows
she is part of the pond she lives in,
the tall trees are her children,
the birds that swim above her
are tied to her by an unbreakable string.
…and with further gratitude to Mary Oliver and her enormous talent as a poet and human being.
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