My friend in Arizona, has two desert turtles for pets. During my recent visit, her husband reached down, picked up one of the turtles, and asked me to feel the turtle’s skin that was within the shell. He wanted me to get a feel for how soft and tender that skin was. It was indeed.
I did not make much of it then. However, later in the day, back at home, while sorting through the clutter, which had found home in my mind over the weekend, I thought of the turtles.
The skin under the shell was very soft. Quite in contrast to the parts of skin exposed to the elements, which were sturdy, rough, and harsh.
In there I discovered a parable for the human condition. We are very much like the turtles except that our shells are not that apparent.
Only when we feel safe and secure in our associations are we able to let our guard down and expose our true tender loving nature. In intimate relationships, where partners feel safe sharing their physical and emotional selves, the tenderness is easily expressed, perceived, received, and reciprocated. However, the same partners, in their routine interactions, may choose to carry a thick skin, sharp claws, and a harshness that could make people cringe. All because hey did not feel safe.
Security, however, is a fleeting phenomenon in a highly unpredictable world, which continually puts our sense of well-being to test. In relationships, the demands, complaints, asks, responsibilities, the daily chores, the burden of expectations of another and of ourselves, all are a barrage of tests that we each of to respond or react to on a continual basis. They challenge us to keep an open heart when everything screams to strengthen the shell that would make us safe.
When faced with these challenges it is easy for us to burrow our tender selves behind a hard shell. It is not hard to imagine the din and clamor of two shells colliding against each other, trying to dig out the tenderness from underneath, that once was, only to find the shells getting stronger and thicker in return. Neither wants to expose the tenderness until it is known that the other shell has been withdrawn; and many a times, not even then.
Life in a shell is safe. Life in a shell is not alive. Life in a shell is long. Life inside a shell feels long.
Life presents opportunities but makes no demands of us to come out of our shells. We may demand the other drop the shell first. There is no way to know if the other shell is still there when one is clenched tightly within one’s own shell. If we choose to keep the tenderness trapped then all that is there is a fearful mind, sharp claws, rough skin, and a scared being. Living but not alive.