“Take a Walk with A Turtle”

So, “Take a Walk with a Turtle” was a phrase I heard at an inspiritational talk recently. The speaker, Joyce Carol Carter, was encouraging the audience to slow down, and remember that God has all the time in the world. “There’s no urgency in the kingdom of heaven,” she said. It was useful for me, because I feel urgent about the kingdom of heaven all the time, especially about the little corner of it that is Cape Ann. But maybe there’s a special kind of urgency, what Paulo Freire calls “patient impatience.” If one’s interested in real transformation, sometimes one must practice patient impatience.

“Take a walk with a turtle” is a phrase that turned up in a CNN report on a Council of Dads, formed by a man who wanted his daughters to have support from other dads besides himself. He asked friends of his to form the Council of Dads, and then requested a piece of advice for his children from each Dad. “Take a walk with a turtle” came from one of those dads. It’s an enjoyable read.

I expected the phrase “take a walk with a turtle” to come from some ancient fable, or story, but it turns out, the phrase comes from Paris–the term is “flaneur”, and Charles Baudelaire made it famous. It was picked up by critical theorist and philosopher Walter Benjamin, and depending on how you use it, a person who takes a walk with turtle can be viewed as a thoughtful, interested, curious person, who is not in a rush, and who takes time to observe what is happening around him or her in the city. The image is of one who takes a turtle literally for a walk, on a leash, through the streets of Paris, being present to all that’s happening, simply because of the slow pace. The term can also be derogatory suggesting that one who walks with turtles is actually a loafer, and a little bit lazy. But then the use of the term, derogatory or praiseworthy, depends on the perspective of the one who is observing the turtle-walker.

I happen to love turtles, and have spent many hours watching them. Along the Ipswich River, (you can see them up close, if you kayak or canoe), turtles enjoy sunning themselves on old logs or rocks on the banks, or even in the middle of the river. They are quick to slide into the water at the slightest sound, so if you want to see them at all, you have to be very quiet. I always stop for turtles crossing the streets, and sometimes get out of the car and carry them along, since crossing a road is a risky thing for a box turtle.

All in all, I’m thinking that a turtle’s pace has its own rewards, and as when one is “considering the lilies” or the birds of the air, slowness might look like loafing to some, for those of us who love a turtle, slowness is a refreshing way to spend some time. I’m hoping Jesus would have liked turtles, if he had ever taken a walk in the New England woods.

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