TBD on Ning

I lost a sister yesterday. While driving a familiar, but infrequent road, I saw a painted turtle in the roadway sunning himself on the roadbed. She was much too close to traffic and I was preparing to stop the car and carry her across the road, when I glanced in my rearview mirror. There were six cars and a truck behind me. Stopping on the one lane road would have required my blocking the road and inconveniencing everyone following me. I chose to keep driving and trust turtle wisdom and human nature. I knew better.

I sought to avoid the consequences of my actions. I determined to avoid the scene by returning via an alternate route, but habit worked against me and I was forced to acknowledge both the terrible anguish and aftermath of her last moments of life and my part in them. Would it have happened anyway? Even if I had stopped, would she once again find herself seeking out the warm concrete of another roadway, tempting once again the same fate? Possibly. The only thing I know for sure is that I didn't stop to render aid and assistance, when I was perfectly capable of doing so. Now there was nothing to be done. The moment had passed, but I had failed.

Shame is an interesting emotion. Those who are sensitive to it are lucky. Shame serves to guide them throughout their lives, reinforcing the difference between right and wrong, between honorable and dishonorable. Shame is what I felt from the moment I made the decision to pass her by. I knew I was not doing the right thing, and instead hoped, vainly, the someone else would. Not unlike so many of us, at one time or another. Why? The answer isn't easy to discover, and in the event that it is discovered, is even harder to face. The person I am, the person I've proven myself to be would have stopped. Who was I on that day? Who was inhabiting my body and making the calculation that my sister's life was worth less than my time?

I can recall only two other incidents where I truly felt deep shame. Once, only once, when I was in grade school, faced with taunts from classmates who were making suggestions that I was in love with a mentally handicapped student, I said something I shouldn't. I must have known it was wrong at the time, because I took great pains to make sure the student in question didn't hear me. The day passed and I mostly forgot about it until ten years later. Suddenly, with no warning, the memory came back to me. The shame hit me like a freight train. The scar remains on my heart—a reminder.

Before regaining that memory, the other incident occurred. My maternal grandmother lived with us and I loved her with all my heart. Still puberty comes whenever it comes, and sometimes hormones raise emotions and depress restraint. I was always a "good kid," but the combination of testosterone combined with oppressive summer heat and humidity made me speak quite harshly to my grandmother one day, and I made her cry. Even now, decades later, the shame I feel because of what I did is crushing. Of all the people to hurt...

My grandmother was quick to forgive—much quicker than her grandson. It was a hard lesson, but one that has stayed with me. At least until yesterday.

As I used to say, "Oh great another f**king growth experience." Okay, let's break it down. What are the lessons to be learned here? They are almost too numerous to mention.

We need to help each other.

We can't expect others to do the right thing when we won't do it ourselves.

Doing the right thing is sometimes inconvenient—to you and others.

Each of us has to value life according to our own principles.

There are people who will go out of their way to do others harm.

God's eye may be on the sparrow, but it's up to me to look out for the turtles.

On Earth, God's work is done through our hands—or it remains undone.

We have choices and the obligation to make them. To refuse to make them is also a choice.

Life is fragile and easily crushed unless we care for it.

Not everyone who needs help will ask you for it.

You need to make sure you can live with yourself when all is said and done.

I live in a place called turtle island for a reason.

I could go on, but you get the idea. My four-legged sister's sacrificed life has given me an opportunity to reflect on both my own actions and how the world works. Some people would say, "It's just a turtle." Well you could substitute whatever you want for "turtle"—"Indian," "Jew," "woman," "gay," "Black," "Arab," "Asian," "redneck," or "junkie." Does the substitution change the context for you? Does the principle remain the same? Holly's recent post seems especially apropos.

Living creatures die. It is the nature of things. It is not my little sister's death that was to be avoided, but rather my part in it. It was a very hard lesson. After all, we're all related.

Mitakuye Oyasin

Views: 15

Tags: America, check, honesty, lesson, life, reality, shame, spirit


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Comment by Vernon Windsor on June 4, 2010 at 1:38pm
Robbie, I had to smile at your comment. I've hunted and fished and skinned and stuffed and killed. I just try to do it in a way that minimizes suffering and honors and respects the spirit of the lives I take. What you describe as levels of "hardness," I call the job at hand or priorities. I can therefore shed this approach when it is not appropriate or wanted, and take it up and "put it on" when it needs to be there. My feeling don't change.

For me,it's just a matter of treating others the way I would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. It's that nasty word that Republicans and conservatives seem not to like—empathy.
Comment by CWO3ROBBIE on June 3, 2010 at 6:57pm
Vernon, I admire you. But, I also feel sorrow for you. You see the world pretty much as I do, but you have much more compassion for others than I do. That means where I hurt a lot, it must be unbearable for you. I had to learn to walk by the poor woman in Instanbul who was sitting in the doorway with a child, begging for a little something, anything. Yes I gave her some money, but I wanted to take her somewhere so she could be safe and have food and raise her child. I could not do that. I had no means to do that. I hardened my heart a little. I wanted to do something for the kids in Viet Nam, other than throw them candy. I could not. Another layer of Hardness. I knew that the women who washed my clothes, even bringing back the $ 50 or so that I had forgotten and left in the pockets, would be severly punished by the veitnamise who we fought after we left the country. I wanted to take them with me. I could not. All the men and women who we tried to help hold on to their freedom, but could not. Another layer. All piled on top of the layers learned on the farm. Castrating calfs, watching the steer hauld off to slaughter. Traping muskrats, shooting and skinning squirrels. cutting the heads off birds, and on and on. layer after layer. that is the way life in this world works. And as you live it, you build that shell thicker and thicker. That is the way most of us survive. We help when we can, but we learn to recognize when we can't. I have not yet reached the point of not feeling guilt, but I do get closer every day. It is now a race. Will I die before the combined guilt overcomes me? Will those layers be able to protect me until the end? Or might the guilt cause the end? That is the game each of us play. That is the curse of being self aware.
Comment by ZenDog on June 2, 2010 at 7:31pm
We can spin this. Honestly. It isn't your fault - it's society. It's the script that is handed to each of us, to ensure the revolution of industry goes forth unhindered to the next generation.

You see where this is going, don't you? It's them pesky conservatives . . . .
Comment by Walter Andujar on June 2, 2010 at 6:24pm
Vernon Windsor, all our experiences in life have a reason to be. You didn't have to stop for the turtle because your inention was not to harm it. Your after thoughts about it show the kind of human being that you are. I hope that the need for the new human of the future all men have the kind of heart you have. I hope that all of us who have that kind respect for life are able to pass it to others.



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