Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Turtles and the Question of Good and Evil

It's no secret that I take a dim view of human nature in general. Most of the time I think people are no damn good (readers of this blog excepted, of course!) and I greatly prefer the company of animals to that of humans.

Every so often, however, something happens that makes me reconsider. Yesterday afternoon I was driving down Bryan Boulevard at rush hour and noticed a couple of cars parked on the shoulder, and a large brown thing in the middle of the road. As I passed the object, I realized it was a large turtle trying to cross two lanes of heavy 55mph traffic, and that the people getting out of the cars were trying to figure out how to help the animal without getting themselves killed.

I pulled off the highway and began backing up in the breakdown lane, all the while watching the turtle. I knew that it would meet its death because of some idiot jabbering on a cell phone, or worse, because of some evil bastard (and I use the word "evil" in its fullest theological sense) who would hit the turtle on purpose. (Note--if you ever hear that someone was murdered after they deliberately harmed an animal, please tell the cops that I was at your house all day. I'll need the alibi.)

Miraculously, one driver after another, including one in a semi, swerved to miss the creature. Then, a red pickup cut across two lanes of traffic and braked to a stop. A man got out and hesitated only an instant before stepping into the nearest lane of traffic, and signaled authoritatively for cars to keep to the left lane. Having created a break in the traffic, the man dashed across the freeway, scooped up the turtle, and hauled it safely out of the road as it waved its stubby legs in the air.

The rest of the day I wondered what to conclude about humans. As a species, we are obviously capable of great evil, but what is it that made four people set aside convenience and safety to save the life of one animal? There seems to be something else at work here...


Christine said...

See, there ARE a few nice people still out there! If only they could be the ones you meet at the license plate bureau.

Dave said...

My wife had a similar experience. A man in a truck stopped all traffic on the road with his truck and let the turtle cross the road. I imagine a few drivers were irritated but that's a small price to pay for saving a life!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

David this should make you think twice about lumping all people into the Evil or bothersome types. I had a similar experience not too long ago. A big snapper was in the road. A little old lady, who I am sure had trouble staying upright was worried and stopped along the side of the road. I had my DB stop our vehicle and I dashed back to get the turtle off the road. A fellow stopped in the middle of the two lane to protect me and the turtle so I could move it. See there are lots of nice people.

Anonymous said...

And I thought I was the only one crazy enough to dodge traffic while trying to herd turtles...

Katherine said...

Hi. I'm Katherine, a homeschooling and gardening mom in Orange Co NC and I just found your blog.

A couple of years ago my citified sister stopped her car, plucked a turtle from the road, and lobbed it into the nearest pond.

My countrified sister was in a car behind her. She stopped her car, shucked off her clothes, and dove into the pond. She emerged dripping with the turtle in her hand and said, "Fool! Turtles don't swim."

On a horrible note, another friend of mine let his daughter get out of the car to move a turtle in the road. On coming traffic didn't see either the girl or the turtle and neither of them survived.

Please be careful when moving turtles. (Wow, do I sound like a Mom or what?) Sorry to be such a downer on my first comment...

I'm enjoying your blog and searching for inspiration as the kids and I launch a new garden complete with chickens and a fish pond.

Anonymous said...

Your entry came just at the right time. I was wondering how much worse things could get and your story has lifted me up again. Is it because we all feel really hopeful that change, no matter who is the leader of it, is coming soon? Are we all just feeling so at a loss of how to survive in this economy, grocery costs, gas, foreclosures and are simply clinging to any shred of sweetness we can? Don't know. Doesn't matter. All of you that stopped and the dude in the red truck did the manly man womanly woman human thing, and that's all that really mattered in that moment. Thanks so much for sharing. I am reconsidering the whole no damn good thing myself, but I don't expect it to last long.

David in Greensboro, NC said...

Been to get your new tags, huh Christine???

Dave...that was good thinking on the guy's part...even better if it was a friend's truck!

You're right, of course, Lisa. When I think about it, most of the people I deal with on a regular basis are really good people. I guess the others are so irritating that they take up an inordinate amount of psychic space.

Chad & Brandy--Jut a hunch, but I'll bet that most people who love plants also stop to help turtles.

Hi Katherine, and welcome. That story about your sisters is hilarious. Clyde Edgerton or Lee Smith could use that in a novel. That's horrible about your friend's daughter, though. For the benefit of my own mother, the Hellebore Queen, who is probably reading this... yes, I am very careful helping turtles!

It made me feel better about the world too, AJ. I hope change is coming soon.

Katie said...

Hey David,

I used to put myself in the "I hate people" category until about a year ago when something clicked and I started thinking that I needed to be the change I wanted to see in the world. I try to focus on the good stuff and know that those people that are evil have a karmic debt that will come due someday.

At least that seems to help.

I'm glad nobody got hurt, and that you were able to help save the turtle!

Wrenna said...

Wow, I see people as basically good. I'm always surprised by people who do nasty or mean things. I chalk it up to ignorance and unconsciousness.... they are truly unconscious of the fact that we are all connected, plants, animals, humans(one of the animals).

When Jesus said "Father forgive them, they know not what they do", he pointed to this, IMO.

David in Greensboro, NC said...

Hi Katie--every so often, something like that almost clicks with me. I guess the way I would put it is that I dislike humans, but I love John, Rosa, and Muhammed.

Wrenna, that is a very good point. It's funny you mention that, because before I read your comment, driving to SC, I thought, "Well, maybe people aren't so much "evil" as they are "self-centered." And I certainly put myself in that category. The root of every evil action is self-centerdness--sometimes it manifests itself in trivial ways, and sometimes in monstrous ones. It's like an infection that left untreated gets more serious.
I was intrigued by your interpretation of Jesus' words as applying more broadly than to his immediate circumstance. That makes a lot of sense, and it has never occurred to me to read them in a larger context. Thank you for that insight.
On the other hand, the novelist (and fellow South Carolinian Pat Conroy) says, "If people were good,then Dauchau could never have happened."
I'm still on the fence here.

Thanks to everyone for your comments and insights. I wish we could all get together in person on Wrenna's front porch to talk sometime!

Hellebore Queen said...

I certainly am reading to make sure you're careful! I regularly see cars stopped on Raleigh Boulevard to let ducks and geese cross with all their babies. Most people care for other people and creatures too! Look carefully and you will see much good in humans!

Wrenna said...

Pat Conroy is my favorite author! He has a way with words that is spellbinding to me. However, good and evil are value judgements that we place on the world. Not that they don't have their place, and not that we shouldn't strive for good, but its very subjective. The people who created Dachau thought they were "good".

Let me get the floor of my porch fixed before you all come over. I'd hate for someone to fall through. LOL!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Hope. God bless us for the gift of hope, and faith. We have the greatest capacity to destroy and the greates capacity to nurture--we are indeed living ironies, and I think, in a strange way, that makes us divine--at least when I think about the christian god. Something similar to your event happened when I was a kid on a busy highway--traffic in both directions stopped to let a family of geese cross from one catch pond to the other. Coolest thing I ever saw. (hope your person got the turtle to the correct side of the road, i.e. the direction it was going!)

Greg W said...

What a heart-warming story. It is good to hear some good news from people now and again.

Too bad we don't hear enough of it to outweigh the seemingly majority opinion of our fellow humans. What we see on the evening news is mostly the bad side of human nature and it is easy to form generalities about everyone around us.

But given that stories like this remind us of the good people out there we just need to remember not to jump to the conclusion that all people are bad before seeing proof of what we are capable of.

Thank you for posting this story.

Billy The Blogging Poet said...

I once used my truck to block 4 lanes of traffic on Lawndale Ave.

An old man was walking aimlessly down the street weaving and barely getting missed by the cars running 45=55 mph in a 35 zone. At least a dozen cars almost hit him as I watched from the seat of my rig and others watched from the side of the road. Finally I almost got a break in traffic and pulled crossways blocking the entire road. Several cars almost hit me but by that point I didn't care. All I was thinking was he could have been my daddy who was suffering from altzhimers at the time.

When myself and one of the onlookers got to the old man we saw a rest home bracelet on his wrist.

After leading the old man from the road several of the drivers cursed me for blocking the road.

That said: Please be very careful when handling turtles-- especially big turtles as they can and do bite fingers off. I've rescued several turtles from the road but if you ever run across a snapping turtle I recommend prodding it with a big stick.