I recently had one of those experiences where someone says something, a simple statement, yet it takes hold in my mind and that simple statement blossoms into deep meaning. I was perusing an exercise forum on Facebook and a woman talked about her experience with a particular form of exercise, stating she wasn’t well enough to practice every day but was “turtleing her way through”. I saw what she was saying, acknowledged the truth of the statement, and forgot about it.
Well, not really. I began to see memes pop up on my Facebook page: pictures of turtles, tracks in sand, and messages like “any progress is forward progress” and I would think “turtling my way”. During this time, I was finishing a book on the culture of the non-elite in Ancient Rome and Aesop was mentioned several times. I already had Aesop on the brain when these memes popped up in my feed, not surprisingly, I began to think about the Tortoise and the Hare fable.
Do you remember this tale? If not, briefly: The hare was laughing at the tortoise for being slow and awkward. The tortoise challenges the hare to a race and the hare, thinking it’s a good joke, accepts. The hare takes off, leaving the tortoise far behind, but stops halfway to the goal to play, snack, and take a nap. The hare sleeps longer than intended and, upon waking, finds the tortoise no where in sight. The hare races towards the finish line and finds the tortoise already there, waiting.
I’ve always read this with my focus on the hare, thinking it was a lesson on the dangers of being a bully and being arrogant. I re-read it with my focus on the tortoise and two things caught my attention. One, the tortoise good-naturedly, issues the challenge. To do so the tortoise had to be aware of the hare’s character but, more importantly, self-confident. The hare making her the butt of jokes did nothing to shake her assurance. Two, the translation of the fable I have says the tortoise “plodded on, unwavering and unresting, straight towards the goal”.
That struck me.
I have such expectations of myself. I think that can be a good thing-drive is important-but it ceases to be good when my expectations are unreasonable. I’ve pushed myself in every aspect of my life, unwilling to admit I am subject to the physical and mental limitations I have. I should write more words per day. I should be further along in my spiritual walk. I should be in better shape. While all of these are worthwhile goals, I tend not to take into account my car accident. I hate thinking of myself as a disabled person and, while I think it’s a good thing I don’t want the accident to define me, I must acknowledge my injuries left me limited. Accepting those limitations aren’t always easy but it helps to have a mantra. Over the last few weeks, mine has become “be a turtle”. I tell myself that on a daily basis.
Any progress is forward progress. Even if it’s one word written, one step taken, one prayer, it’s one more than I had yesterday. Like the tortoise in the fable, I move unwavering toward my goal, though I admit I do rest 🙂
I was given a gift for my 17th birthday; a turtle pendant. I haven’t worn it a great deal but I’ve kept it in my jewelry box. I’ve begun to wear it as a reminder to be a turtle but also as a reminder of the fullness of time. It’s been one or two years since I turned 17 and, at that time, the pendant was just a gift from a friend. Gratefully received and appreciated but just a gift. Neither she nor I knew it would take on such meaning for me at this point in my life. A simple gift. A simple statement. Perhaps not so simple after all.
My birthday gift.