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Fledgling - Crossing the road

Crossing the road

By Marie Malin
Illustration by Caroline Magerl
Not too long ago my sister and I were driving on a rural road on the way to the airport. We were in a shiny, rented, PT Cruiser talking about the stuff that sisters talk about, like shampoo, and our family, and Corn Nuts (Remember those? They’re still around!) I think I was about to ask her if she preferred original flavor or ranch when we came around a corner and saw a little brown dome smack in the middle of our lane. It was a turtle. I could see the options flash across my sister’s face. Brake? It was too late. Swerve? It wouldn’t be safe. Keep going? We had no other choice. I held my breath. My toes curled. My hands flew up to cover my eyes, even though they were already scrunched shut. “It’s okay,” my sister said a second later, looking in the rearview mirror. I exhaled and went limp in the seat. A few moments after the stun wore off, we looked at each other, screeched to a stop, and pulled a U-turn in the middle of the road. We both had flights to make, but that seemed like the most insignificant thing in the world right then. As I got out of the car and walked toward where the turtle sat curled into its shell, my senses sharpened all of the sudden. I smelled the hot blackness of the asphalt, felt the warm sun on my shoulders. A soft breeze rustled the tall grasses on the other side of the road, where I gently carried the turtle and sat it down. How did that turtle know it had to cross the road? Who knows. Animals don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t think about why—they just do what they have to do. I got back in the car beaming like a shampoo commercial model. Helping the turtle opened something in me—I felt hopeful that humans really can take care of our fellow species, not just because the mystery of consciousness compels us to but because caring for creatures is a joy beyond the fleeting pleasures of everyday life. But caring for other creatures doesn’t have to be direct or literal—doing what you love is caring for others. I’m starting to realize that it doesn’t matter what you do in life—if you do it with love, it will make a difference in the world. Last month, after six great years, I left my job at Maine Audubon to get ready for graduate school. The hoped-for degree? Not biology, not journalism, not Corn Nut science, but divinity. If you told me six months ago I’d be going back to school to become a minister, I would have laughed at you. But here I am about to be a student again, buying pencils, paper, and Cliff Notes on the Bible, propelled by something I don’t quite understand but that’s keeping me on course even as the cars zoom past. The answers are there somewhere. Sometimes you just have to cross the road to find them.