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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Turtles, Tunnels, and Denial

Turtles, our slow-natured friends, are the beneficiaries of a government sponsored windfall. Plans are afoot to provide a $3 million tunnel for Florida turtles to allow safe passage beneath the busy highway.

We wouldn’t want turtles to be hit by cars and become unwilling missiles. Does the so-called expert that says this happens think turtles are a top-secret weapon of mass destruction?

I will admit that living in rural Missouri, I’ve run over my share of turtles. I’ve seen others that met with a sad fate while simply trying to cross a country road or state highway.

I hate to hit a turtle. I’ve never seen one become a missile, but I’ve certainly heard the sickening “plop” as the shell crunches. It makes me feel bad to know I’ve unwittingly killed a living creature. Sometimes, I’m lucky and straddle the little slowpokes and spare their lives. Other times, we are both unlucky.

Jim created his own turtle/terrapin crossings. When he spotted one of the little fellows in the road, he stopped the car, got out, and carried the docile creature across the road. Hopefully, he saved as many lives as I took with my carelessness.

One day my son had hitched a ride home from school with one of his buddies. They saw a turtle in the road, and Eric told his friend that his dad helped them across the road so they wouldn’t get hit by a car. Eric’s friend was so inspired by the story, he pulled over and jumped out of his vehicle. As he reached for the turtle, instead of hiding in his shell, the turtle viciously snapped at the hand that was trying to save him. All turtles are not created equal in the humble department and the Good Samaritan has the scars to prove it.

Just think how long the crossing takes when the turtle stops and pulls in all appendages and sits there all snug inside his shell thinking he is safe. Instead of the shell providing a safe haven, it just means he is in harm’s way longer.

It’s easy for us to see that the turtle is in denial of the danger lurking around the next corner. We understand denial because it is an all too human emotion.

I heard a story of denial at lunch yesterday. A group of us attended a luncheon prior to an educational program about the genetic studies being done on Alzheimer’s disease. I sat next to a nurse who provides counseling for families dealing with Alzheimer’s. She mentioned her own denial when her mother first displayed symptoms of dementia. Logically, she knew her mother’s behavior couldn’t be explained away, but emotionally, she grasped at hope born from denial.

When you are in denial, you are inside the shell with the turtle. It makes the world feel safer, but it can put you and your loved one in harm’s way. While you are in denial, a family member with dementia may continue to drive when they shouldn’t. You may leave for a few hours and return to an empty house because your loved one has wandered. Your denial makes you a turtle in the middle of the road with a speeding car fast approaching.

Wouldn’t we like to keep our loved ones safe? I’m sure that if $3 million would keep our families safe, we would be willing to pay it if we had it. The key word is “if”. A certain faction of our society thinks no amount of money is too much to keep the world safe for small critters, but don’t worry about how the money is being taken away from our fellow humans. How much safer could the highway be made with $3 million? How many human lives could be saved with the money used to “protect” turtles?

The problem is turtles cannot be kept safe by a tunnel. Perhaps the turtles will be safe while they are in the tunnel, but the big dangerous world exists on both sides. No amount of taxpayer’s money will keep the turtles safe. No living creature lives in a vacuum and no tunnel could be big enough or long enough to protect life except for a fleeting moment.
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