Essay. When Life Happens.

To rephrase an old saying, life happens while we are thinking about something else. Two years ago, a shopping center was built on what had been a rural golf course. Around that time, I drove home from a doctor’s appointment and missed my exit. My punishment was to drive past the lushly landscaped shopping center to get to the road home.

Between the heat and humidity of a late Spring afternoon and the frustration of needing a walker with wheels to get around after a six-month saga of neurosurgery followed by treatment for infection and a non-healing wound, I was a very grumpy driver.

As I began to anticipate the junction with a bigger road, something appeared in my lane that looked like a dark trash bag. It also seemed to move intermittently, and I slowed so I would not run over it and the hidden contents, which with my luck would flatten a tire.

It was actually a large turtle, about as long as my hand and forearm combined, who was trying to negotiate the road to get from a small stream to the larger marshy area on the other side. Despite the fact he or she had made it to the other lane of traffic I stopped, to watch and make sure he crossed safely.
As I watched, a small truck backed out of a driveway and accelerated. I expected the driver to stop, or at least swerve to avoid the turtle, but he didn’t. The young man drove right over it, and I watched the turtle’s face fix in expression and the head and legs retract quickly into the shell. It was a very close call, but the truck did not hit him. It drove away oblivious to the terror it created for an agonizing moment, and the car behind me honked so I would move again.

Instead, I put the flashing distress lights on, got out of the car, and walked to the turtle. I waited a moment for his head to come out and I told him gently I would help him cross the road. I walked beside him so an oncoming car would see me and would have to hit me to hit him, told him he was a good boy, and relaxed only after he made it into the trees.

The honking began again as I got into the car, and I am sorry that the line behind me had to wait, but they only had to wait 5 minutes or so for a creature to live rather than be left to chance or a driver who enjoys hitting animals.

I felt shaken until I opened the front door, still seeing the turtle’s face retracting into his shell at the moment the truck’s front wheel almost ran over him. At home, I got the dogs into the back yard and threw balls for them until they conceded defeat and we sat under the shady trees for a bit before going into the house.

I drove that road today, a day after coming home after two weeks away with friends. I saw the small stream divided by the once rural, now all too busy road to the highway. I still don’t know why I missed the exit that day, but I am no longer angry at myself for “messing up” while driving home.

The turtle turned and looked up at me before passing into the trees. I still think of him (or her), still wonder that time or fate or God’s hand put me in place to help him, still feel glad that I shared that moment. I don’t know if the turtle is alive, but then we often don’t know the end of the story. We know our moment on the page, in the telling, and that is enough…to do our part when we can.

That is when life happens. And it happened to me, on a day I could not walk far without help, that I could walk just far enough to make a difference. That memory will make its difference in how I live today.

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