The Box Turtle

boxturtle4 (1)

I do not fear the Quran any more than I fear the Torah or the basis of my Christian beliefs – my own Holy Bible – nor do I fear the awesome corporeal power of our own Constitution of the United States.

What I fear most are man’s corrupt interpretations of them.

I know it will come as a surprise, but I was an independent, often rebellious child. One summer after I turned six in January, I was with my grandparents while my dad was at work and my mom was running errands and I decided to explore the world down the old, two mile long field road that led past the barn and my grandfather’s blacksmith forge, then through forested hills to a large creek in the middle of some bottom land my grandfather owned.

Needless to say, at the age of 6, I could roam a pretty large area of fields around the house but was not allowed to make that solo trek. I caused quite a bit of concern when my mom arrived to pick me up and I was nowhere to be found. That concern was soon allayed as several minutes earlier, I had sauntered up unnoticed and unannounced to my grandparents’ back porch, barefooted, soaking wet and holding a prized conquest – a small box turtle about the size of a six-year-old’s hand, which I had so bravely and heroically captured on a sandbar in the creek.

I so wanted to keep that turtle as a pet – my 6-year-old self loved it. but I could never get it to eat. I tried insects (live and expired), worms, lettuce, and my mom even bought turtle food on the pet section of the Morgan and Lindsey’s 5 and Dime (located in the middle of bustling downtown New Albany, Mississippi – 1965 population of 5,400 people) but it just wouldn’t eat. It hated confinement and the environment captivity presented.

I was sitting with my grandfather on his porch one afternoon and we talked about the situation.

He told me that if I kept the turtle, it was likely going to die from starvation and the stress of captivity.

His advice to me was if I truly loved the little turtle, I needed to let it go. I, being me even at 6, protested, citing how much safer from predators the little turtle was with me, how I could keep it well fed and healthy and from getting too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.

He told me that for it to survive, I needed to let it be what it was – an animal that had the tools necessary to survive on its own in its own natural habitat. His point was that the changes I wanted to make in its life were too much and it needed freedom to survive.

Then my grandfather told me something that afternoon I have remembered to this day, some 50 plus years hence. He taught me that you can’t force something you love to change without making it different, and sometimes that “different” was catastrophic for the thing we claim to love.

While I didn’t see the complete logic of my grandfather’s lesson at the time, I didn’t want the turtle to die – or to be responsible for its death, so I asked my granddaddy to walk with me to the creek bottom where I could let the turtle go where I found it.

We did, and I did.

America shares much in common with my almost pet box turtle.

America was established by a constitution based on Western culture – which includes elements of Greek democracy, Judeo-Christian tenets and the belief of primacy of the rights of the individual that came out of the Enlightenment.

As the turtle had a natural environment in which it faced risks – but also could flourish – America’s natural environment is bounded by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

We can no more change America’s environment and expect it to live than I could that turtle.

And yet that’s where we are. We have challenges to every foundational aspect of this country – moral, economic and religious. We have Democrat presidential candidates who are proposing we put America in a cage and force feed it store-bought turtle food.

We can’t change the America we love without making it catastrophically different.

Some would say that is cornpone Mississippi philosophy but in truth, it is backed by the wisdom of the ages.

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