Most of the time, I feel like anything but a tortoise. I feel more like a bouncing hare. Or a bumblebee. Buzzing . . . zipping . . . dashing. From this thing to that thing.
There are lawns to mow. Entertaining to do. Cars to service. Appliances to repair. Volunteering to get involved in.
That’s only a partial list of life’s “shoulds.” And every day grows more frantic. Sometimes I feel like a humming bird—desperately fanning my wings just to keep from dropping to the ground.
Maybe that’s why the conversation about turtles and tortoises so took my fancy.
I don’t remember just how it all started, but people began spouting facts. We remembered the 1970s when pet shops across the United States sold thousands of tiny turtles, and every kitchen had a Pyrex dish with a pet turtle living out its short life in uneventful boredom.
That was before they told us those cute little pets were a prime source of salmonella; and mercifully, the turtles were spared.
We talked about snapping turtles and box turtles. And about the difference between turtles and tortoises. Tortoises, I discovered, are land-loving cousins of the turtle—never setting foot in water.
We talked about turtles as a threatened species. And we talked most of all about huge tortoises that count their lives in centuries rather than decades.
Then one young but wise member of the group observed, “Maybe the reason they live so long is because they never move very fast.” And that was the last I heard of the turtle conversation.
Could there really be any truth in that statement? Is it possible that all this speed and hurry is counterproductive? Maybe it isn’t an accident that the word deadline contains the word “dead.”
Could it be possible that the most important lesson about how to live could come from a giant tortoise?
The Galapagos Tortoise is a remarkable creature. Early Spanish explorers were so taken with the giant that they identified a whole chain of islands with the Spanish name for tortoise—Insulae de los Galapagos (Islands of the Tortoises).
The Galapagos Tortoise grows up to four feet long and weighs 600 pounds. Legend has it that when Charles Darwin came to the Galapagos in 1835, he tested the speed of a tortoise by riding on its back for one hour.
In that length of time, the creature had moved 360 yards. One-fifth of a mile.
If you want to measure your own frantic pace by that of a tortoise, try it sometime. Just try walking one mile in five hours.
Aesop, a wise teller of tales who lived many centuries ago, understood perfectly the strength of the tortoise. He told of a race and the surprise winner.
In a frenzy of “hurry-sickness,” the hare had rushed forward, only to wear out before the end. The purposeful tortoise, on the other hand, moved steadily to the finish line.
“Slow-moving” and “extremely long-lived.” That’s how the literature describes turtles and tortoises. And we might also add “effective.”
So think about it. Is there anything you should be learning from the long-living tortoise that “never moves too fast?”
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.visit-snider.com
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