A Tale of Two Turtles: a parable of sorts

A Tale of Two Turtles: a parable of sorts

Feb 23
A Tale of Two Turtles:  a parable of sorts

Once upon a time there were two turtles.  Their names were Alan and Eva.  They lived inside of a box.  It was a nice box and it had everything that a turtle needs to survive and be comfortable.

Alan was perfectly happy inside the box.  He had explored the entire box.  He knew everything that was in the box.  He knew where the boundaries were.  He knew where to go for food and drink, where he liked to sleep, where he liked to walk, and how far he could go in any direction.   It was a good box and Alan liked his comfortable life inside the box.

Eva was bored inside the box.  Everything was too predictable and too comfortable.  She had explored the entire box countless times but everything was always the same.  Eva longed to see what was on the other side of the box’s walls.  She knew there had to be more.  She was distinctly uncomfortable living in such a tiny box.

One day, Eva asked Alan, “Do you ever wonder what is outside our box?”

“No,” replied Alan.  “Why would I do that?”

“You mean this box doesn’t seem too small to you?  You don’t ever wonder what else there could be?”

“I like this box,” said Alan.  “Why would I think about something different when I like what I have?”

“But I don’t like this box,” said Eva.

“That makes no sense!” exclaimed Alan.  “There’s nothing wrong with the box.  If you think there’s something wrong then it must be you because it can’t be the box.”

Eva was hurt.  It didn’t seem fair for Alan to tell her that how she felt was wrong.  She couldn’t change the way she felt about the box.  It felt too small, too restricted.  She couldn’t explain it, but she knew deep inside that there was more than just this box.

So Eva decided that she was going to try to learn what was outside the box.  At the same time, she decided to hide it from Alan.  She knew he wouldn’t understand and he wouldn’t approve.  He might even try to stop her.

The next day Eva went exploring the edges of the box until she found a place where the wall looked a little thinner, a little more worn than the rest of the walls.  She began nibbling and scratching at the wall.  After a great deal of effort, she found that she had made progress at trying to tear a hole in the wall.  She was exhilarated by the progress.

When she returned to where she usually rested with Alan, he noticed her excitement.  “What has you so excited?” he asked.

Eva knew she couldn’t tell him the whole truth, so she replied, “I was just looking at the walls of the box and found that they excited me.”

“Of course,” said Alan.  “It’s a good box with good walls.  I’m glad to hear that you like the walls.”

Day after day Eva returned to tear at the wall.  Every day she got a little closer to knowing what was outside the box.  Every day she would return to Alan and every day she would try to hide her excitement and anticipation from him.

Finally the day came when Eva tore a hole in the wall.  She could finally see what was on the other side of the wall.  Placing her eye to the hole, Eva studied what lay beyond.

She was puzzled and terribly disappointed to find that it looked very similar to what was inside the box.

As Eva returned back to where Alan waited, she continued to puzzle over what she had learned.  She had learned that the box wasn’t all that existed – there was something outside of the box.  Outside the box looked a lot like inside the box, but it couldn’t be the same because it was outside.  She was still trying to work her way through what this meant when Alan noticed that she was deep in thought.

“What are you thinking about so hard?” asked Alan.

Still distracted, Eva replied, “What I saw on the other side of the wall.  I’m trying to decide what it means.”

“You saw outside of the box?  How did that happen?”  demanded Alan.

Eva noticed that he didn’t ask what she had seen.  “I found a place in the wall that I thought I could break through,” Eva explained.  “I scratched at it until I was able to see the other side.”

“WHAT?!” roared Alan.  “Who do you think you are?  The walls are there for a reason.  You can’t just go destroying them because you’re curious!”

Eva was stunned by Alan’s sudden passion.  She’d never seen him so passionate before.  All she had done was look outside the box but he was treating her as if she’d done something horribly wrong.  She didn’t understand why.  Sure he had always spoken positively about the box and how much he liked it, but Alan had never yelled before or gotten so worked up over it.

“Why are you so upset about this?” asked Eva.  “All I did was look.  I didn’t even see anything interesting.  I think I’ll go back and look again tomorrow.”

“I FORBID you to go back there!” Alan screamed.

“You have no right to order me around,” replied Eva coldly.  “I will go where I want and do what I want.  And I want to know what is outside this box.”  She pulled herself inside her shell to sleep.  Her shell muffled Alan’s words to where she couldn’t make them out, but she knew what he was shouting about.

The next day when she came out of her shell, Alan was missing.  Eva journeyed back to the hole in the wall, eagerly anticipating being able to see even more, but to her dismay Alan was there waiting for her.  He had positioned himself against the wall to where his shell covered the hole.

“I may not be able to keep you from wanting to look, but I can keep you from actually looking,” said Alan defiantly.

“Get out of my way!” shouted Eva.  “I want to see!”

“Everything you need to see is right here in this box,” said Alan.  “I’m not moving.  It’s for your own good.  I’m planting myself right here until you come to your senses.”  And with that Alan withdrew into his shell.

Eva had no hope of moving Alan.  She looked around in desperation, trying to find something, anything, that might help her.  Suddenly Eva did something she’d never done before – she looked up.  She looked at the top of the wall and realized that it really wasn’t as high as she had thought.  If she only had something to stand on, she might even be able to see over it.

It wasn’t long after Eva came to this realization that Alan, still safe inside his shell, began to hear something scraping outside of his shell.  Then he felt a rocking sensation, as if someone were trying to move him.  He chuckled to himself, knowing that it was impossible for anyone to move him once he was safe inside his shell.

The scraping and rocking continued for some time.  The sounds seemed to come from increasingly higher and higher outside his shell until it sounded like they were coming from the very top.  Alan decided to take a look and see what Eva was up to.  He pushed his head out of his shell only to discover that Eva was nowhere in sight.

“Eva?” he queried.  “Where are you?”

“I’m up here,” came the response from above.  Alan craned his neck in every direction, but he couldn’t see Eva.  Then he realized what all the sounds and rocking had been about – Eva had climbed on top of his shell!

“What are you doing up there?” demanded Alan.

“Looking over the wall,” replied Eva in wonder.

“WHAT?!” roared Alan.  He pushed his legs out his shell and stood up with all of his might.  At first it was hard with Eva’s weight added to his own, but as he reared up he felt her lose her balance and tumble off.  Her weight was suddenly gone.

Alan turned to give her a stern reprimand only to discover that Eva had vanished.  He listened and realized that he could hear her giggling, but it was muffled as if she were inside her shell.

“Where are you?” he demanded.

“I’m outside of the box,” giggled Eva.  “When you stood up with so much force, you propelled me over the wall.”

“Oh, no!” moaned Alan.  “What are we going to do?  We have to get you back in here where it’s safe!”

“There’s no way for me to get back in,” replied Eva.

“What about the hole you made in the box?” asked Alan.  “Couldn’t you come back in through there?”

“The opening isn’t big enough for me to get through,” said Eva.  “Besides, even if it was you’re standing in the way.  Remember?”

“I’ll get out of the way,” said Alan.  “Please come back!”

“Then help me make the opening in the box bigger so that I can climb back through.”

“No,” remarked Alan, “you’re the one who wanted out of the box so badly.  You’re going to have to find your own way back in.  I’m not going to tear up the box.”

“I’m starting to feel like the box is more important to you than I am,” sniffled Eva.

“That isn’t fair,” said Alan.  “I told you that nothing good would come from you trying to look outside the box.  See where it landed you?  This is all your fault for not listening to me.”

“So you won’t help me get in and you won’t come out of the box to where I am.  Is that right?” asked Eva.

“That’s right,” said Alan smugly.  “You made the mess you’re in and now you’re dealing with the consequences.”

“Are you saying that the only way I can have a relationship with you is to come back in the box and stay there?” asked Eva, somewhat coldly.

“Yep,” replied Alan.

It was quiet for a while.  Then it was quite a while longer.  Alan knew that Eva would eventually come to her senses if he just waited, but it was sure taking her a long time.

Finally Eva broke the silence.  “Goodbye, Alan,” she said.  She turned her back to the box and set off to explore this new place in which she found herself.  She missed Alan, but she knew that he would only accept her as long as she stayed in the box with him.

“What will you eat?  What will you drink?”  Alan cried.

“I don’t know,” said Eva.  “I guess I won’t know until I find it.”

“You’re going to die out there!” yelled Alan.

“Maybe,” admitted Eva, “but I might also find food and water out here.  I won’t know until I look.”

It was the last time Alan or Eva spoke to one another.  Alan remained in his familiar box.  He knew everything there was to know about the box.  It was a good box.  He never went back to look for Eva.  He never looked through the hole she had opened in the box.  Alan eventually died in his box.  He was alone, but he knew he was right.

Eva explored her new world and in time learned that it was itself another box, just a bigger one than the box in which Alan lived.  She met other turtles who told her of other, bigger boxes.  They made fun of Alan and his tiny box.  As Eva explored bigger and bigger boxes, she came across other turtles like Alan.  They lived in bigger boxes, but like Alan they had found a box which they refused to leave.  Some of them even judged her for leaving their box, just like Alan had.  She made fun of them, just as she did Alan.  Eventually Eva died inside of a box.  She was alone, but she knew she was better than the other turtles.

Regardless of the box in which he or she lived, every turtle had a few things in common.  Firstly, each turtle lived inside of a box and each box contained roughly the same things:  food, water, and shelter.  Secondly, each turtle took his or her identity from the box in which he or she lived and most of their time was spent with turtles living in the same box.

The last thing they all had in common was something that never seemed to occur to any of them, despite being the most obvious, and perhaps the most important:

They were all turtles.

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