Yesterday I saw a tortoise crossing the highway. Some cars dodged it, a few slowed, others either didn’t see it or didn’t care. When a car would approach, the tortoise would pull arms and legs in, briefly, as the car straddled it and drove on. Then the creature would start its lumbering passage once again. It had a very long trek ahead of it, with a concrete island separating northbound lanes from southbound.
I spontaneously prayed for its safety, importuning the spirits to protect it, or to guide someone to gently move it before it became roadkill.
Imediately I wondered at my mindset. Why do I have so much compassion for a tortoise when the human world is in such pain? Great disasters happen daily; inhumanity is rife, children are abused constantly, people starve, life sometimes seems unlivable. And yet I summon the powers of heaven to protect a turtle.
I don’t regret my prayer. He seemed so vulnerable, so exposed, despite his shell: one misplaced tire and he’d be sent back to the Undifferentiated Tao. But I find it remarkable, and not a little strange, that I have more compassion for a tortoise than I usually do for my fellow human beings.