Prison is a State of Mind…

Tenacity of Turtles

baby sea turtle on sand

On the final day of my vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I took one last morning walk along the pristine white sand beach. As the sand was warming in the morning sun, the waves were doing what waves do, gently creeping onto the beach with commitment and surety. Predictably, most of the vacationers were sleeping off their sunburns or over-celebration from the night before. Sober and protected by SPF 60, at seven in the morning I was not distracted by the strolling tourists or the local vendors pushing silver bracelets or woven hammocks. Instead, I was able to concentrate on nature’s elegance and the intimate relationship between all living things which unfolded during my farewell stroll.
Witness to Birth
A few feet ahead there was a little movement in the sand which I suspected was a sand crab emerging from its cool sand burrow just long enough to catch a little morning sustenance. As I approached, I realized there were actually two little critters but they were not sand crabs at all. They were brand new, barely hatched baby sea turtles, no bigger than the palm of my hand.
There was a disturbing documentary which came immediately to mind. Images flooded my mind of heavily pregnant momma sea turtles waddling up onto the beaches to give birth to their litter. The mother would burrow a deep hole into the moist sand to lay hundreds of baby sea turtle eggs. She would frantically cover them up with her clumsy fins in an effort to protect them from predatory birds seeking an easy score of a meal. I don’t remember just how long those eggs would remain there, or how frequently or infrequently momma would come back to check on her little ones. What I did remember was that once hatched, the little ones begin a desperate struggle from the hole to the ocean to the safety of the sea before the circling seagulls plucked them into their beaks and flew off, fighting against other seagulls for what would be a juicy meal.
The entire documentary was quite disturbing to me; the desperate mother, the hundreds of little abandoned babies being lifted into their air by a swarm of ravenous birds as the babies underdeveloped little fins were flailing in a desperate attempt to survive.
Urge to Protect
Now, standing on the beaches of Cabo San Lucas, I was looking at wonder at the two little creatures I was now holding in the palm of my hand.
The evolutionary process developed a slight bit of protection for new hatchings; most sea turtle eggs hatch during the cool night, affording the little turtle babies the cloak of darkness to make their way to the sea. These two baby turtles were tenacious fighters as it was likely they had struggled all night against the tide, attempting to navigate their way into the safety of the ocean waters.
In the documentary it stated it was important it was for the little turtles to work their way to their freedom, how important it was for them to build the muscles during the experience of the struggle. The fight for survival would prepare them to swim away from the enemies which awaited in the deep blue. But it was not simply the strongest who survived the ordeal of the hatching; it was also a bit of luck of the draw. Why was one little turtle relegated to bird food while the one right next to it found clear passage to the ocean? Why did one little guy find the oncoming waves impenetrable while the other was simply lifted on the crest of a wave to the safety of the deep-sea?
We All Need Protection
I started to think how the life of the turtle resembled the life of humans to a great extent. Some humans are unfortunately born at the bottom of the pack and far more likely to get eaten by hovering predators than the first few who might slip into safety, unnoticed. Some humans are battered, beaten, abused and pumped full of drugs and bombarded with examples of poor decision-making. Others are born in the privilege of nurturing. And some, very few, benefit from a hand that reaches into the sand to rescue us from the enemy.
Would it do the little turtles any good to bemoan their plight? Of complain that someone was born more closely to the top of the pile than the others? Would it make success more likely if the last one out of the hole refused to move because of the unfairness of his situation?
What We Do With What Is
What matters most is what we do with the reality with which we are faced. These two little sea-bound siblings didn’t stop for one moment to seek help, nor did they give up or believe the ocean was bigger than their will to survive. All they knew was no matter the circumstance, they needed to use every bit of baby fin muscle to get to safety. As I held them in my hands, their little fins never stopped frantically attempting an escape from what I am sure they perceived to be a huge complication in reaching their goal.
I set one of the little guys down on the sand hoping for his success in navigating over the incoming tide. A gentle wave came in and the little guy, struggling though he may, was lifted up and thrust six feet or more further away from his goal. Retrieving the tenacious turtle from flailing on his back, I decided if they were going to make it to safety, I would have to get my hands dirty and my feet wet. They had proven themselves as far as I was concerned. If they were hatched the previous night then it meant they had already had a six hour workout. Their muscles were plenty strong and there was no value in making things any more difficult. I decided I was going to walk into the water, beyond the waves, and get them far enough past the incoming tide so at least that part of their struggle was behind them.
Reaching a water level up to my waist, I let the two critters find their freedom out of my hands into what seemed an entire ocean resisting their efforts. My assistance was futile. They were washed up on the beach more quickly than I could make it back to protect them from a larger oncoming wave which pushed them even further onto the sand. I glanced overhead to check the location of the hovering seagulls. Luckily, my only obstacle was going to be the ocean for the time being.
Facilitating Freedom
I thought about my work in the prisons and with individuals who face the most insurmountable disadvantage I was blessed to have escaped. I thought about the little girls violated or the little boys bullied. I thought about addicted mothers or enraged fathers. I thought about the mentally challenged, the indigent, illiterate and the helpless and hopeless. How many baby turtles existed in the thousands of prisons throughout our nation? Individuals who had little chance of making it to safety.
The difference between the turtles and humans is that the turtles will not stop moving toward their goal. If they are gobbled up, it was not because they abdicated their right to fight for their freedom. With humans, there is a disabling hopelessness which floods the belief system and paralyzes the effort for freedom. Knowing these two little critters were symbolic of my commitment to provide a glimmer of hope for any and all individuals, I would stop at nothing to do my part in helping them get their shot at freedom.
One, two, three times I attempted to get them beyond the surf. It seemed as if my efforts were wasted, and I was becoming exhausted in my fight against the relentless incoming waves. Tears came. Not just for the little turtles, but for all little turtles. Why was freedom so unreachable for some and so disrespected by others? As the strength in one of the little critters seemed to wane, a surge of energy jolted through my body fueling me with what felt like a super-human commitment to secure the turtle’s safety. I met the next wave, and the wave after that with indignant persistence. When I could no longer touch the ground I gently closed my hands around the soft bodies swam even further into the ocean. Past the breakwater I was able to catch my breath a bit, realizing if they were to be safe, this was the place and now was the time. I loosened my grip and let them drift out of my loosely held grip.
A Little Helps
As I let the current take me back toward the beach I felt relieved, satisfied really. I had done my part, gone beyond the call of duty to give life a chance at living. For all I know, both of them could have ended up as fish food within moments of making to the ocean, but that was not the point. I did what I could to help them as far along as I possibly could. For that, I was content. I did not give them a handout and a bag full of worthless pity. I did not enable them by making it too easy. They had built their muscles and proven their commitment over time. But when it came right down to it, all of the struggle in the world, all the tenacity they could muster was never going to get them a shot at freedom. They needed someone bigger and more powerful to lend a little hand, to have compassion on their sincere effort. At that moment in time, I was in the right place at the right time and I was willing to provide them with that extra little push.
As I returned to my room and washed the sand out of my hair in preparation for my flight back to Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but hope that on my next visit I would come across another set of hatchlings, and with any luck, they would be the tenacious offspring of the two little ones I had helped find an opportunity for freedom.


Comments on: "Tenacity of Turtles" (3)

  1. Martha de Paul said:

    Beautiful, moving, thoughtful… Thank you for sharing.

    Much Love Coach Martha

    – Sent from my iPhone

  2. Maria Carranza said:

    This is one of my favorite stories… I will never get tired of it…


  3. S Delgadillo said:

    Hi Coach,

    Just found out about this. Thought you would be interested. It will help Johnny when it passes. I thought you might want to pass it on to anyone else who may be interested and want to help!


    Date: Fri, 15 Feb 2013 17:53:30 +0000 To:

Looking forward to your reply...

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