The Tortoise. And the Hare.

I have two quotes taped to the bottom of my computer monitor. On the right side, it’s George Bernard Shaw:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

On the left, Franz Kafka:

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

The Kafka quote is a recent addition. And it wasn’t till a few days after I taped it there, while I was pondering his observation—that one can simply wait and the world will roll in ecstasy at one’s feet—that I realized I had long ago taped what seems like the opposing view on the other side of the monitor.

Not long ago I was reminded of the story of the tortoise and the hare. Which was I? I wondered. The tortoise? Or the hare? I realized that the fable encompasses the fundamental conundrum of my life, just like the two quotes taped to my computer monitor. I have the mind and spirit of the hare, but I am trapped in the body of a tortoise.

Every time I drive to my therapist’s office, across the Washington Ave. bridge and under the overpass, I remember the box turtle. It haunts me, the memory of that little turtle, slowly making its way in the shade of the overpass across the busy highway. Washington Ave. is no place for a turtle. When I saw it, I pulled over into a parking lot nearby, walked back to where it was crossing, and waited for a break in the traffic. There’s something about a turtle moving across a busy highway that is so sad. It’s the slow, determined plodding of those four short legs—pull and drag, pull and drag, pull and drag. How could the turtle possibly make it to safety?

I picked it up and saw that its shell was cracked; it had already been run over. I pressed the shell together. I thought about superglue. I wondered if the shell could maybe mend itself, if the cells would grow together like a scab and eventually make the shell whole again.

The turtle had pulled into its shell, but after a time it came out. I put it down on the floor on the passenger side of the car. It was a hot, sunny, summer day, and my Great Dane and I were on our way to the dog park.

The park is built on an old dump site. I released the broken little turtle in the rank wetland abutting the fenced in park. When now I walk past the dried cattails in the rusty water where I released it, I think of that toxic water and am certain I left it to die.

One day, in session with my therapist, I read the two quotes aloud. She said, “It’s hard to be fully alive. We have to be living in a paradox all the time.”

I hold both of these truths to be self evident: I move through life like a force of nature; and, by necessity, I am learning to listen, to be quite still, to simply wait for the world to freely offer itself to me, roll in ecstasy at my feet.

  4 comments for “The Tortoise. And the Hare.

  1. DeAnna Satre
    September 26, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    Probably one of the greatest causes of false thinking is the assumption of either/or. Am I the tortoise or the hare? When we can accept that we are both–rarely are we wholly one thing–the world will come rolling in ecstasy at our feet.

  2. Valentine Hart
    September 26, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Lunden –

    It’s been a long time since I heard from you, but what you’ve written here is well worth the wait. I would gladly wait much longer, if the reward were to be such words.

    Your essay, to my eyes (and ears), is near-perfect — on two levels. The first is the substance: the recognition of your life’s conundrum, marvelously stated as your dual nature — mind and spirit of a hare, and body of a turtle. These dueling metaphors, paired with the paradoxical quotations of Shaw and Kafka, offer a feast of tantalizing tidbits, not to be devoured in a moment’s gulp, but to be picked at, sampled, and tasted over time, until the essence is fully realized.

    At the next level of near-perfection are your sentences. Each one is impeccably constructed, standing solidly and alone on its own merits, yet also following naturally from what came before and leading just as naturally to what comes next. They are like a string of lustrous pearls; the absence, or even the alteration, of one would weaken the string. As it is, the string cannot be improved.

    You have a distinctive voice, unlike any other. Arising from pain, it delivers pleasure.

    I’ll wait patiently for your next expression. Don’t hurry. Remember that slow and steady wins the race. In the meantime, I’ll read and reread this one, wonder at its beauty, and ponder its mystery. It’s all I can do. More power to you.

    – Val

  3. Jennifer Lunden
    September 26, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Val, this is the best review a writer could get. Thank you.

  4. Glenna Goulet
    October 10, 2010 at 9:23 am

    I can relate on so many levels. One is because, I too, have saved a couple of turtles from the highway.
    The other is that I do feel like a hare trapped in the body of a turtle. So much I want to do, so little energyto do it.
    Thanks for making my day. Glenna

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