Why Can't We Just Let it Be
If you read my last blog Swimming With Turtles, what follows doesn’t need much introduction.
You might remember it was dusk on the beach and I was drawn to the water’s edge by the people gathering in an ever-growing throng, all delighting in the the sea turtle’s newly hatched from a nest twenty yards from the water. It still brings me to tears when I think of it. Perhaps their smallness and vulnerability reminded me of my own. In that moment, I didn’t feel much bigger than any of them. For that brief time on the beach I felt I had more in common with those turtles than with the humans that surrounded me. But I’m a sucker for an underdog, after all.
If you’ve never seen this before, it may be hard to comprehend just how little these creatures are and just how big a feat it is for them to make it to that current and out to sea. And there were so many obstacles. Just picture a hundred tiny turtles running across a vast stretch of sand only to unsuspectingly fall off a slight ledge into a size 11 footprint. You might be able to imagine them scratching at the sand, little legs clawing frantically back up to the lip of that footprint. Sometimes they made it out. Many times they fell backward, forced to attempt the climb yet again. But often the struggle left them not just back in that footprint, but back in that footprint on their back.
There may be no better laboratory in which to study the human response to suffering than that beach. No matter how often - or how vehemently - bystanders were told not to touch the turtles, it fell on deaf ears. Over and over the crowd, from children to retirees, bent down to touch, to hold, to pet, because after all, they were “so cute”. The most intriguing thing to me, however, was the individuals who could not stand to watch that upside down turtle struggle. They seemed overcome by a compulsion to help, to flip it over, to carry it to the ocean, to do something to just make it better.
But this phenomenon isn’t really iimited to turtles, is it?
What is the thing inside so many of us that gets uncomfortable with another person’s suffering?
How often do we move to “help”, often without permission, let alone an invitation?
How often are we convinced that our help is warranted, needed even, because the other person is having a difficult time?
What is it inside of us that is so afraid of pain and discomfort - even someone else’s - that we feel “called” to make it stop?
The truth about turtles is the struggle to the water’s edge is important. It strengthens hatchlings for their ongoing fight for survival (only 1 in 1000 survive to adulthood). The truth is - especially considering that last stat -not every hatchling is supposed to survive. The truth is that human interference can have a detrimental effect on the entire process. And as casual observers of this amazing act of the natural world, it is somewhat arrogant to think we should, that we know how, or that we need to interfere. Our job, if we have one, is to observe and be filled with awe at the beauty of this universe and our place in it.
The truth about people is that we’re a lot like turtles.
At least I am.
There is not one solitary struggle from my life that has not, in some way, strengthened me for the next step on my journey. Like those sea turtles I don’t know how much time I have left. Maybe I’ll make it to the water’s edge or maybe I’ll die trying. What I do know is that there isn’t an ounce of unsolicited assistance from a well-meaning soul that will change that outcome. All of that uninvited help does have an impact, for sure, but in my life - to date - it has never been positive, regardless of good intentions. And just like with turtles, I think it arrogant and misguided to think that we know better or have any decent advice to offer for someone else’s life. With people, as with turtles, if we have a job it is to gather around, lean in and be awed at the strength with which our fellow humans struggle and ultimately overcome seemingly impossible situations.
And like those little hatchlings on that beach, most of us could use a community of excited and delighted folks, surrounding us and cheering us on as we fight our way to the horizon.