I have a confession to make: I littered this week. It was just an apple core (okay- sorry, I shouldn’t be justifying it). I ate it while driving to a meeting. I didn’t want to have it left sitting in my cup-holder. So I casually dropped it out the window of my car, hoping- praying– that the butterfly effect wouldn’t mean that I’d just killed the remnant of some exotic orangutan in Malaysia.
I dropped it just before coming around a bend; I figured I’d be well out of sight within a couple seconds and I wouldn’t have to give my transgression another thought. But then traffic stopped. And- because God’s justice and humor are mixed- I came to a halt with my side mirror perfectly focused on the apple core lying in the street. The pavement suddenly looked remarkably clean and kempt; the core was it’s only blemish.
Thus was my sin, resting on the street like a pimple on the tip of one’s nose come school picture day.
I also saved a life this week. This too while driving between meetings. I’d seen her from a distance, lying halfway across my lane, in just the spot so that car wheels wouldn’t hit her- unless she tried to move further. I threw on the hazard lights and dashed between cars. I lifted her and carried her from the road, gently laying her in the grass. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes caught mine. And in that moment, I felt brave.
I think she was a box turtle. Possibly an eastern painted. I’ve never been able to tell the difference.
I was out for a walk when I came upon a small pond. It’s situated just off a local back road, between the pavement and some forgotten railroad tracks that parallel it’s northern shore. To be honest, it’s less of a pond and more of a disgusting scum hole. The water is murky and mud of various colors populates its shores. Leaves are slowly rotting in the shallow parts, creating a consistency similar to that of old porridge.
If Satan has a septic tank, I found the overflow.
As I passed the pond- onto greener (and cleaner) pastures- I couldn’t help but notice some bubbles disturbing its otherwise morbidly placid surface. I looked closer and saw the outline of a fish, no more than a few inches long.
Remarkable, if you think about it. That a pond so vile could be a portal for the miraculous; the boy has five loaves and two fishes- but he hasn’t showered in days.
The human necessity to be a necessity is often overlooked. No one wants to be a leech. We might like the benefits of such a role. But no one wants it on their name-tag.
I’ve been struggling this week- well, most weeks really- struggling with the fact that I don’t measure up. No one’s ever told me as much- at least, not directly. But I’ve not made any progress on some of my writing projects; a friend was in town but didn’t have the time to visit; when I look in the mirror I see wrinkles, flab and pimples jeering back; on the graduation program there’s no sigma cum whateverthehellitis next to my name.
And in the void of affirmation, a mutant whisper rises from the shape of an apple core, lying on the road: “You’ve no merit, no purpose. And you’re deeds smell like a scummy pond.”
But there’s at least one turtle that might beg to differ. My accuser stands ready; but the defense is rising from the ashes.
A little hero is all I am; it’s all we are. And even this only during the shining hours, our greatest moments. Moments when we transform into small ones, but heroes nonetheless. Our best intentions dash between traffic where we might slip on an apple core. But still we run. And the smelly ponds we’ve become may reek but they’re also a lifeline for the least of these.
And isn’t that enough?
If I live this life for the sole purpose of picking up a turtle from the middle of the road, if I’m the pond and that’s my fish, my calling, my cross—isn’t that enough? Won’t grace bridge the gap between redemption and errant but earnest hearts?
When I returned home from one of those meetings or walks- I really can’t remember which- my wife greeted me with a hug.
“I’ve missed you,” she said.
How puzzling. “I was only gone an hour.”
She didn’t say anything but held the hug for another moment, another breath. And the rising of her chest against my own felt like bubbles drifting to the surface of a placid pond.
“I saved a turtle today.”
She looked up and smiled. “My hero.”