In the course of our everyday lives and many times during each day, we face situations, while they are happening or when we look back, that give us very clear sense as to the rightness or wrongness of our actions, times when we put on the cloak of Christ or when we acted more out of our own self-interest.
There are other times when we might face or encounter without warning a circumstance that leaves us unsure what is right thing to do. For me, two weeks ago I had to deal with such an ethical dilemma, complete with armor and a name, that somehow, while moving slow, easily caught up to me.
Sam is a turtle I found in our neighborhood. Sam is not a name I gave, but one I found painted on the shell. Having a name for this unknown turtle I had never seen before actually somehow meant there was more at stake, more a sense that there was never and will never be another creature like Sam.
Late in the afternoon, I spotted Sam from the road in the corner of a concrete driveway of a new neighbor I had never met on a 90+ degree, humid day. The concrete was literally like the proverbial fry pan, and the turtle was not moving.
So I was faced with what to do and the questions just flew into my head: Should I violate my neighbor’s privacy (or at least their property’s borders)? Does the turtle belong to them? Is it a child’s pet, even though they don’t have children? Did someone abandon the turtle? If alive, is the turtle OK? How long can turtles survive on a blazing hot pavement? Wouldn’t the turtle be better off if I moved it in near water? How could act without knowing anything about the care and feeding of turtles (as the last one I owned was about 50 years ago)? Should I stick my head back in my shell or extend my neck maybe where it does not belong?
What did I do? That day, I turned around and turned my back on Sam, figuring I would not trespass, even to aid this creature with a name, in the interest of good neighborly relations.
I spent an unsettled evening, and a sleepless night questioning myself. The questions then circled on whether I chose the path, not less taken, but rather less difficult in walking away.
The next morning, I was still troubled, and couldn’t get Sam out of my head. I began to think I was making this too complicated. I thought of St. Francis who always stood with the unprotected, celebrated creation and all God’s creatures, and thought less of convention and societal rules – and regularly stuck his neck out – and more on loving life in all of its manifestations.
With that, I walked to my neighbor’s house, with the owners still away. I found the turtle was indeed alive, but had not moved from the previous evening. With the day already hot and sunny and projected to be in the 90s, I picked up the turtle – after getting guidance on how to do so from another neighbor – and walked him down the road to a small retention pond.
I’ve taken a look for Sam without any sightings. But I have a sense Sam is back in nature where he belongs. And, helping Sam was what was the next right thing for me.
There are a number of Franciscan Media resources focused specifically on our role to live in harmony with the earth that God as the creator “saw that it was good” (Gn 1.10), including among others: Care for Creation: A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth, by Ilia Delio, O.S.F., Keith Douglass Warner, O.F.M., and Pamela Wood; Live Simply: Earth Friendly; and the popular audio book I Will See You in Heaven and the June 2013 St. Anthony Messenger magazine (also known as SAM!) article “Anthony and Francis Loved Creation,” both by Father Jack Wintz, O.F.M.