I really started liking turtles after an unusual experience I had many years ago. It happened at an ordinary banquet for around 200 people I helped serve at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel. I worked there for years as a server and bartender. On this night, the ballroom was partitioned off into two sections―one comprising two thirds of the ballroom with the other taking up the remaining third. This was done so that the dinner guests could eat, socialize and dance in the larger section while their children played the evening away in the smaller section, which had been set up as a petting zoo.
We servers had finished our work ahead of schedule and, to pass the time before dinner service, I went in to check out the petting zoo. I went about admiring the creatures, all set out in their aquariums and cages. There were fish, salamanders, gerbils, hamsters, parakeets and even an iguana. So far it had been unmemorable affair. That is to say, nothing strikingly fresh had hit me; I had seen nothing new.
Then I came to an aquarium about halfway through the tour. There in the bottom, surrounded by rocks and little plants, was a turtle. It was smaller than a computer mouse and it moved slowly across the bottom of the cage, a gentle trickle of water wetting the stones under its feet. It was approaching its bowl to eat. Its shell was green and grey with small, intersecting pentagons. It had tiny eyes set into a head that was rather featureless and which at first struck me as unattractive, even ugly. In fact, other than its shell, everything about it was ordinary.
Then, suddenly, I saw it. Here was this defenseless creature, unhurried, docile, stepping gingerly toward the other side of its aquarium to eat. It was beautiful. Stunning.
It wasn’t as though I had never seen a turtle before. But now, suddenly, I was having a spiritual experience―a moment of worship and healing. The turtle was at perfect peace despite its fragility; I could have reached in and ended its little life in a moment if I had wanted to. Nevertheless, here it was, paying no attention to me, just existing according to the will of God, doing its thing, exuding such quiet gentleness that my heart nearly broke as I stood there watching it. Suddenly the glory of the creation swept over me, and I began to weep.
The turtle had taught me a lesson on the sovereignty of God and the beauty of vulnerability. It was an epiphany that was being superimposed over long-forgotten bitter places inside me. What right did I have to rail against God for creating me as a small, vulnerable child, trustingly walking into life’s assaults? It wasn’t as though any of the blows I had endured had harmed me irreparably. To the contrary, they improved me.
Now, here was this delicate creature going about its little turtle life, not even questioning its enclosure in an artificial box, scarcely aware of my standing over it. There was something astonishingly pure about its silent movements; it was doing what it was created to do―eat, drink and pad about over the rocks, displaying the glory of God in its simple way.
Why can’t we accept our lot? Why did I once find it so difficult to take joy in my existence in this strange and beautiful world, where circumstances turn on a dime? What did I ever stand to accomplish by squirming in anxiety and finding fault with God for leaving me in a hostile world, vulnerable and so often wrong-footed. After everything, I’m still alive, aware, and prodigiously blessed. None of the evil in the world can blot out the simple beauty that is everywhere―even in our cries of pain―if we will trust God, treat others well and cleave resolutely to what is good.