What an encounter with a snapping turtle taught me about my own family | Charles D. Allen

As parents of mentally-ill family members, we see things that are obvious to us, but not our loved ones. A past event serves as a metaphor that may connect with others. I was driving to work one morning along the appropriately named Creek Road.

Up ahead I saw something in my path. I maneuvered my car to straddle it and noticed that it was a turtle crossing the road. I immediately stopped the car, put on the four-way flashers, and directed the following cars around the turtle.

When the coast was clear, I went to the turtle, which was pretty good sized—the shell was about a foot long. I was in my work attire (jacket and tie) and didn’t want to get my hands dirty, so I nudged the turtle with my shoe. It promptly extended its head and snapped.

Being raised in the city, this was the first time that I had seen or dealt with a snapping turtle. I was definitely not planning to pick it up. My idea was to flip the turtle over on its back and push it to the road shoulder nearest to the creek from which it had come.

To my surprise, the turtle righted itself quickly each of the five times that I flipped it over and it snapped defensibly.

Another car pulled up and out appeared an Army staff sergeant. He had seen this before and asked me which way the turtle was headed. Of course, it was to the far side of the road and the sergeant informed me the turtle would continue to head in that direction no matter what.

He proceeded to use a long-handled wrench to grasp the front edge of the shell and then lifted the turtle to deposit it on the other side of the road.

As I thought about a recent encounter with our family member, the similarities came to mind. The turtle was intentional with a clear direction and purpose and would not be deterred. It was in an environment that it did not acknowledge or care was dangerous.

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It was clear to others that if it proceeded, the outcome would have deadly consequences. The turtle fiercely resisted interference from an external source and did not perceive our actions as assistance.

Though thought to be limited in capability, the turtle reacted faster than one would have expected and was able to get back on its feet. It was capable of causing injury to those trying to help.

After receiving assistance, the turtle went on about its way and who knows if it placed itself in a similar situation later that day.

The parallels are stark for those who live and work with the mentally ill. We see the dangers and try to help. That assistance may not be appreciated and may actually be actively resisted.

But we must keep vigilant, work with others, and provide help when necessary—sometimes that is all we can do.

Originally published at www.penncapital-star.com,by Charles D. Allen

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