Sparta And The Turtles That Have Crossed My Road
I don’t know why turtles began appearing in the road. I don't know why Sparta ran away or where she is hiding. Because of these incidents, however, what the turtle represents manifests itself in my life when I am experiencing troubled times.
In college, I gripped the wheel of my car, a 2001 white Nissan Sentra, as I drove to my part-time job at an electronic store. I had paid for the car myself, gratitude shifted through my fingers: this is what earning something felt like. On this specific day, though, I was feeling down. I felt a pressure that I assigned to myself, with no good reason, building up inside of me as guilt because I went away for college; because I couldn’t help my big sister with baby sitting; because I couldn’t be a part of my niece and nephews day-to-day lives; because my mom was sick and I couldn’t help; because my dad was taking classes and learning how to use email. I was tired of going to class, tired of going to a job that never paid enough money. Tired of what it took to survive. Me in my First World privilege, clearly.
As I drove to work though, in an isolated city, I spotted something slowly moving across the road. Instinctively I slowed down, careful to check my mirrors for other cars. As I got closer to the object, I noticed it was a turtle. Its shell was dark, almost black and the size of a grapefruit. I passed the reptile, without catching it in my wheels and tried finding it in the rear-view mirror. Strange, I thought, there isn’t any water around here.
Days passed as days pass. Time moves in an effortless way, neither distracted nor oppressed. Time is filled with unlimited life, waiting for nothing and no one, knowing how to survive at the perfect pace. On one of those days that have since passed, I was driving again except in a rush. By the time I noticed the object in the road and identified it as a turtle, it was too late – the body of my car slightly jolted as the turtle crushed under my wheel. I felt a sting, wondering what the hell it was doing in the road in the first place.
After that second incident, I found myself thinking more and more about turtles. I was curious about their history – How many species were there? How long did they live? Where did they live? I learned that there are an estimated 318 different species of turtles on this planet. The oldest reported turtle lived until 175 years old. They could survive up to two to three years without eating. They first appeared on this planet 245 million years ago and have not changed much in their evolution since then. They are, essentially, dinosaurs.
I shared the incidents with my chapter sister, she turned to me and said, “On my island that means that is your spirit animal.” Although my parents are from Puerto Rico and Haiti, I had never heard the term before.
You see, I was raised by a very Christian mother who is certain all answers are revealed in the Bible. Power, for her, is delivered by Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins. She was committed to teaching me into the way she thought was right, to pull me away from temptation and far from a burning pit of fire. She meant well, of course. To her, there is no such thing as a spirit animal. My mother thought she was saving me. Instead, it made me seek in the opposite direction. Rebellion was engraved in my curiosity to know what a spirit animal was.
In July 2015, I picked up a novel called The People in the Trees by my now favorite writer, Hanya Yanagihara. Honestly, what attracted my attention was the cover. It is graced with the presence of a turtle. The picture, however, is split into many pieces; implying that it is torn apart or shattered. I noticed the title second and let the language slowly slip through my tongue. In the bookstore, I read it aloud in a whisper.
“The people in the trees.”
Yanagihara’s author biography told me nothing but where she lives. It is one of the most humbling stories I’ve ever read, so well written and beautifully crafted. I love remembering how it made me feel. In it, she explores humanity and the congregation of societies. Each group maintaining their own disgusting and equally profound ways to be a people. The reveals are very slow and they creep up without much sound. But, oh, are they big. It is her way of tricking her reader: if you’re comfortable, just wait one more second. When I picked up her second novel, A Little Life, I had so much anxiety I couldn’t finish it! You have to read her for yourself.
Anyway, Yanagihara’s debut novel allowed me some additional time and space to think about turtles. What did they mean? Days – weeks, months, years – would pass before I thought about turtles again.
Sometime in 2016, my life partner walked through the front door and called out to me. “Look,” he said while smiling. “There was a guy selling them in the street for five bucks. Cute, right?” He had a small clear container in his hands. Inside was colorful marbles, a small amount of water and a very tiny turtle. It was a little bigger than the size of a gallon bottle cap. You see, I was shocked because I had never told him about the turtles in the road. I had never told him that the idea of turtles sometime appear in my thoughts. Passionately, I then told him the stories.
He replied, “Then that means you have to be the one to take care of it.”
I did, indeed, begin to feel responsible for the little creature. I guessed that it was a girl and named her Sparta. I watched her often and appreciated her pace. Her wrinkled neck and face looked ancient.
After having her for several months, she ran away. One day she was nowhere to be found. It’s not like she could have flown out of the window. I’ve had dreams about finding her, full grown. And others about not finding her until I am moving out of this apartment. Some dreams had a group of them, others had one. I had a dream once that Sparta was injured and I was nursing her cracked shell back to health. Again, what did it mean?
Here is what I learned, from spiritanimal.info:
The turtle symbolism is characterized by the association with the earth and earth symbols of groundedness and patience, even in moments of disturbances and chaos.
Having the turtle as totem means that you have an affinity with the ancient wisdom of the earth. You are naturally tuned into the elements, land, plants, people and animals. You carry your home on your back figuratively speaking and feel at ease wherever you are.
The wisdom of the turtle totem teaches us about determination and staying strong. This animal encourages those who have it as totem to listen deeply to their guidance and trust their path no matter what.
It is a great helper for those who need to provide a steady effort and persistence. You can call on the wisdom of the turtle when you need help to sustain your efforts and succeed in a long-lasting endeavor. This spirit animal is also associated with longevity.
Being inspired by the wisdom of the turtle totem, you can slow down when you feel you are getting overwhelmed by a situation or emotions and rest to gain a more grounded perspective. This spirit guide can assist you in taking time for yourself to better integrate all the aspects of a given situation or issue.
I don’t know why turtles began appearing in the road. I don't know why Sparta ran away or where she is hiding. Because of these incidents, however, what the turtle represents manifests itself in my life when I am experiencing troubled times. I am reminded to slow down, to pace myself with steady steps. In those moments, I recharge and am able to tackle the obstacle(s) head first. When the feat is accomplished, I am aware of the win and feel humble in the guidance. My spirit animal has taught me to be a witness in my own evolution.
I am baptized.