Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Turtle and the Snake

I recently made a presentation on teaching at a professional conference in Austin, Tex. My wife went along, since she has three brothers living in the area and she was able to spend a lot of time with them. I had some time one of the days of the conference, so I went to lunch with them and did a tour of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Park. It is a breathtakingly beautiful place, perfectly laid out with wall-to-wall flowers and butterflies. We got a bonus that most visitors to the park don’t get. We saw a great drama unfold before our eyes as soon as we entered the place. A nice-sized and brightly colored ribbon snake was writhing desperately in a little wetlands pond. At first we thought the creature was tangled in the lilies; after thinking about it awhile, a snake getting tangled up in anything didn’t make much sense. Then, as the struggle intensified, we noticed that a big turtle had that snake by the end of the tail. The only strategy the snake had was to wiggle and squirm and thrash, vainly attempting to swim away from the predator. The turtle’s only strategy was to hang on until something came loose. And something did indeed come loose: about four inches of the ribbon snake’s tail. The beautiful but slightly diminished snake then shot down amongst some brush in the edge of the pond, out of sight to turtle and human alike. A moral to that little episode occurred to me as we walked through the park. All of us get caught in terrible situations from time to time and all of us exert great effort to escape. When the turtles of our lives have us by the tail, we struggle, writhe, thrash about and try everything we know to escape or otherwise solve the problem. And it has been my experience that with every struggle, we leave a little bit of ourselves behind. What the snake left was a piece of itself that would supposedly regenerate. He might miss a bit of his physical makeup for a day or two, but nature has it worked out that he will be whole again in not too long. In our bouts with difficulties, we must gain the confidence that though we have a lot of ourselves invested into the struggle, and though we will hurt awhile after the problem, we, too can regenerate. Time is a great healer and, as they say, if it doesn’t kill you it will make you stronger. I have heard many people say they learn from mistakes and problems and grow from them. A life without difficulties would be dull and static. To be human means to be resilient. Psalm 34: 19 (NIV) “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” As to that turtle, I guess we can learn from him, too. You may not win the whole prize, but hang on; at least you will get a little something out of the struggle if you are tenacious.

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