Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Abandoned Shell

Listen to this post:

The day did not start out well. I awoke tired and hot, remembering that I could not get the internet running last night and I didn’t have a current pool key. So much for working and swimming. Alone in the woods. Perhaps I don’t need my computer or the pool today.

I pry a kindly woman from her condo, who offers to show me how to open the pool gate: maybe I didn’t turn the oversized key just half way. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t budge, but am grateful someone wants to help. As we leave the pavement for the grass, as she walks her small, fluffy dog to the pool and I follow, I spy an abandoned turtle shell by the dumpster. “Hey, think I could take this for my kids?” I ask knowing full well I intend it for myself. “Sure,” the woman says with a smile.

Not a half hour earlier I was writing about turtle shells, trying to craft the tightest summary of my book Turtlebox Stories I could manage.

About seven years ago when discerning how best to present a research paper for a session of School of the Spirit* I was attending, I hit on the idea of a turtlebox [yes one word]. It had an interesting ring because the ear is more accustomed to hearing box turtle. I had collected, mostly in person, the precious stories of people’s experiences of the divine and a boring, old paper did not seem appropriate for something so special. These personal and sacred stories cried for a container that matched their uniqueness. Thus, the turlebox was hatched.

I used a nine-a-and-half-inch, oval paper-mache´ box as the basis, painting it a myriad of bright colors. I knew the lid would be even more special: the shape of a turtle’s shell, head and legs, also painted, but with layers of pastel, loved trinkets, Mod-Podge and my signature squiggles. The top was attached to the first turtlebox with Velcro, to make sure it would be protected in flight. As it sat in our large classroom at the convent, it drew a lot of attention.

So much so, that when I returned four months later, the mother turtle was accompanied by 25 babies: one for each classmate and instructor. Honestly, making those that summer was my sanity. It was a dark time and the project lifted me from that place.

Somewhere along the way, a friend clued me into what Native Americans believe about turtles: that they are the meeting place between Heaven and Earth. The shell is the dome, pointing upward and the body touches earth. I had no idea, yet was immediately struck with the “rightness” to hold those stories. Eastern cultures also share that view.

So here I am NOW with a real turtle shell to examine, admire and wonder what happened to its owner. Somehow, it feels like a gift for me. A tangible sign that I need to forge ahead with the book that’s been 12 years in the making [ok, I wasn’t so aware that’s what was happening the whole time] and never seems to get done. Maybe it’s time for me to take off my shell and share it, not hord and refine the life out of it.

And all I could think of this morning was being unplugged and not wet. This is far better!

• What made me cranky today?
• Did I let that cloud any gifts or thoughtfulness from others?
• If I didn’t, what shifted in me?
• If I did, how can I shift myself next time?
• What stories lay in my personal turtlebox?

PS My key did not work, but the kindly woman is letting me use hers and I am still struggling to get inet access; this will get posted when I do …

*School of the Spirit is a two-year Quaker program of spiritual-nurture ministry that, at the time, met four times a year. For more information, visit www.quakerinfo.com/sos.shtml

You can see the stories I collected at www.turtleboxstories.com. I am re-vamping the site to make it more interactive, but you can still read the current offerings.

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