The Turtle Shell 5/4/19

By Richard Bleil

Have you ever thought about turtles and their shells? They are large, heavy, cumbersome, and frankly quite beautiful. They also protect the turtle from many predators. When threatened, they pull back into their shells, and are very difficult to get at as food. Their shells are their source of protection.

And their downfall.

Humans can be, frankly, disgusting animals. We seem to live by the adage that, if we like something, then we have the divine right to take it. I read a wonderful passage about the difference between love and appreciation. If we appreciate a rose, we will pluck it and take it home, but if we love a rose, we will leave it, and tend the bush.

Turtle shells are seriously cool. Their designs are beautiful, and they’re fascinating creations of nature. As such, many people want to own those shells, to use as bowls for knick-knacks, displays to hang on the wall, and for bragging rights. This has given rise to an industry of poaching these (and other) magnificent creatures, an industry that has driven the turtle to the brink of extinction.

It’s ironic that these shells, that had evolved to protect the turtle, will likely be the cause of their end. But they’re not alone. Along with many other species facing the same danger, I find that I am as well.

I’ve been hurt a lot. From a childhood where I was the victim of emotional abuse, bullying, belittling, to a career life where I paid tremendous prices for trying to do what was right, I have my scars. Every failed relationship, every disappointment, they’ve left their impression on me.

Eventually, nature will find ways to protect itself. For my psyche, that means defensive walls. In some ways, I’ve locked myself away and hidden. Nobody really knows me, and, frankly, I’m not entirely convinced that I do either.

Our emotional walls are not dissimilar to the walls of a tortoise. They protect the vulnerable and soft spots in our psyche and give us a safe place in which to withdraw our true selves. They are surrounded by trip wires and land mines that people can inadvertently (or intentionally) step on if they get too close. And like the turtle, these defensive walls can be our failing.

Humans are inherently social creatures. The problem with walls is that they tend to keep us from getting close to others and participating in society. In the thirteenth century, King Frederick II devised an experiment to discover the native natural language of people. He took babies from their mothers and placed them in a nursery with explicit instructions to the nurse-maids that they are not to make a noise, speak a single word, or let the children hear a human voice. But the experiment failed…every baby died.

Safely hidden in our shells, we slowly die. Hidden away from connections with humanity needed for survival, we begin to wither away emotionally. The more we hide, the thicker the walls become. Eventually, we stop taking care of ourselves, finding it difficult to motivate to do the most basic survival activities like eating.

If you are having a hard time breaking out of your shell, please know that you’re not alone. Many of us are introverts, depressed, and struggling because we have been hurt, abused, and mistreated. Somehow, it helps me to know that I’m not alone. Please keep in mind that I feel bad when I think of other people suffering. It’s just who I am but knowing that there are others that share my pain somehow helps me to realize that the way I am feeling is not unique. It helps me to feel “normal” and makes it easier to open up and reach out for help. If I didn’t know others struggled as I do, I certainly wouldn’t be writing about it today.

You’re not alone, and it takes great courage to reach out for help. Ask to be involved with your friends’ activities, seek therapy if you believe it will help (it helped me tremendously), and let your family and friends in, even if just a little bit, so they know how you are feeling. If you have a loved one reach out to you, be open, be accepting, be willing to listen. We all need to hear a human voice, feel human contact, and connect.

The turtle has to come out. It’s not an easy thing to do, but we have to learn to let people, and leave the comfort of the shell. It takes great courage to allow yourself to venture out from the shell, as I recently have done myself, taking yet another chance that, frankly, had no chance at succeeding. But, I’m proud of myself for taking that chance.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to withdraw again.

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