Yes, it happened.
Several months ago, my wife lay with a mother turtle as she laid her eggs in a hole she made in our backyard – right where the edge of the grass met the road.
For nearly 4 months we walked out to the spot in the morning, afternoon, and evening to see if the baby turtles were being birthed out of the Earth. We didn’t want them to get hit by passing cars.
For my birthday, a few weeks ago, I went to NYC to have an extensive 48 hour artist date with myself. It went horribly wrong and the entire experience was a process of letting expectations die, which was the perfect birthday gift after all.
On my way across the Rhinecliff bridge toward the train station I passed a big, ancient-looking snapper turtle that had been hit and killed on the highway. She was on her back, her limbs open to the sky, and a neon gash of red over her abdominal area.
Since I had spent nearly 4 months fathering the eggs of a turtle just like her, I experienced a grief. A sudden stab in my abdomen. A moment of relating, empathizing, and pain – all at once.
Then, from the pain, came a song from my lips
Turtle I have seen your eggs,
I’ve seen them fall into the ground,
I’ve seen them hatching little legs,
I’ll keep them safe in and out of the ground.
Immediately, the grief transformed from a sense of constricted pain into a rush of love and tears. Now, I didn’t see these eggs hatch. To my knowledge, they hadn’t. I was just following the sensation, sound, and story of my body.
My ego & expectation death in the city sent me home early and my daughter, my wife and I all felt compelled to gently dig up the turtle eggs for it had been way past the time for them to hatch.
One by one we retrieved emptied, soggy, eggs and celebrated. With each egg, a feeling of relief in my body. The joy of new life – until we uncovered a tiny dead turtle.
I felt a sense of guilt like “Am I allowed to be doing this? Did I kill this turtle by gently digging around this womb in the Earth?”
She was perfectly intact, so tiny and compact, and lifeless. The baby turtle must have died from not making it out of the hard clay.
I held her in my hands and this fatherly instinct came over me to protect her, and then my somatic therapist role turned on. I noticed the smallest movement in her tail and thought “she’s in a freeze response from near-death”.
So I gently took my finger and stroked her shell, hoping to create a sympathetic response and move her out of freeze. Her tail moved more, then my wife poured water over her and it was as if a seed had sprouted and came to life.
She looked all around, reoriented to the fact that she was alive, and began crawling all over my hands. She fell onto her back in my palm and right there, just like the mother I saw hit on the highway, was a raw opening. Her tiny belly button where the egg had attached to her and nourished her was so present and tender.
One dead turtle. One new turtle. One expectation dead. One new experience lived. One wound that killed over the same opening that nurtures.
This is the way of the world and the turtle taught me this. We are in a constant state of renewal and destruction, death and life, rupture and repair. The way of the turtle is slow. They take time, they take space, and they find safety within.
I was reminded by this turtle to slow down. I unfollowed everyone on Instagram, cut my client schedule in half, and began walking the mountain again every day to let my mind have more space, so that my body has more space, and then I’m able to listen and respond and relate to everything around me and within me.
I thank the turtle for this reminder and I am curious where it takes you, the reader. Where do you feel parts of my story in your body? Where are you constricted with fear or grief? Where have you not allowed something to die so it can be reborn?
What I continue learning about trauma is that it cannot metabolize until we release around it. There must be a somatic acceptance of it so that we can physiologically release our grip that we have on it.
And then it composts and turns into new life, into something else.