I was driving to preschool, minding my own business, when I saw what looked like a big rock on the highway. I swerved to avoid it and when I got close, I realized that it wasn’t a rock. It was a turtle. An old, beautiful turtle the size of a shoe box. He was crossing the highway and had a few feet to go. If I picked him up and got him to the grass, he’d be safe.
The turtle was crossing at the exit for my son’s school – right down the road. I decided to drop my son off at school and go back for the turtle. It was risky and I worried about the turtle as I rushed out of the preschool. I got in the minivan, drove back to the spot and parked. I couldn’t see it too well, but the turtle looked different. As I got closer, I saw that he’d been hit. His shell was smashed and his guts hung out the side. He was dead. If I’d stopped when I saw him, he’d still be alive, but this magnificent creature, who had a chance just a minute ago, was dead.
I cried for the turtle as I drove away. I kept telling myself I could have saved him. I could have saved him from such a violent, horrible death. I cried on and off all day for that turtle. I wondered what I was supposed to learn from this experience.
I knew what I felt: regret. I knew what I’d do next time I encountered an opportunity: act immediately. This wasn’t the first time I’d hesitated and lost. Years ago I was flying alone, and once the plane had finished boarding, I noticed an empty row across from me. While I was thinking about jumping into it, a guy in the row in front of me snagged it. I thought I’d learned my lesson then, but apparently I didn’t. Hell, I should’ve learned my lesson twenty-five years ago when I wanted to pick up Sebastian Bach — the lead singer from Skid Row. He was sitting alone and he was still nobody – I didn’t even know he was in the band. But I didn’t even talk to him. I still regret it. I definitely have enough regrets to have learned something by now.
I thought I’d learned my lesson, but it seems it wasn’t over. This morning, my husband spotted another turtle just behind his car’s tire. He showed me and the poor guy was heading farther under the car, so my husband got the barbecue tongs and plucked him out. My daughter named him Tommy and we watched him amble across the yard. I thought that Tommy was my second chance.
And then, on the way to summer camp, I saw another turtle crossing the road. (There must be some kind of run on them.) He was smaller, and he was right in the middle of my lane. I didn’t hit him, but I realized I couldn’t stop, either. It was morning rush; the road was too busy and too fast for me to be able to get him without getting hit. I prayed that he’d get across the road safely. On my way back, there was no trace of him. Maybe he got across. Maybe he got hit. I don’t know. But what I learned from the third turtle was that sometimes, there will be nothing that I can do.
I didn’t tell my kids about the first turtle — too sad. But I will teach them what that turtle taught me: to seize opportunities. It’s time for me to lead by example. No more “should’ves.” I will act. I will fail. I will succeed. And I will also accept that there will be times where I can’t act, and that I won’t influence those outcomes. I need to teach my kids all of these things. I guess that’s why my lesson didn’t end with the first turtle.