Do you ever have memories and experiences that seem branded in your mind? And they were so awesome that they seem to become a part of who you are? Well, when those kinds of things happen to me, I like to have a memento, and that often comes in the form of a tattoo. In this case, I have the Hawaiian symbol for turtle tattooed on my lower back. Why? I’m glad you asked.
Years ago, I took a trip to Cozumel, Mexico, with a group from a local dive shop. We spent a good bit of our time on a boat and in the water. The drift diving in Cozumel is amazing, by the way—you feel like you’re flying. Some of the coolest things were the seahorses and the sea turtles. I remember one dive where I was drifting along, headed toward an opening in a cave, and a giant sea turtle came gliding out, headed in the opposite direction, and we passed one another so closely that we almost touched. I wish I had video, because it was simply magical. But that’s not why I got the turtle tattoo.
No, the turtles were a land-based adventure. One evening, our group decided to rent some dune buggies and drive around the island. We had a lot of fun along the way, but the only thing I really remember is Punta Sur, the southern tip of the island. It was just before dusk, and we got out to have a look around. Soon, a Mexican man approached us, holding a small Igloo cooler, and he offered to show us what was inside. A little freaked out that it might be something untoward, we hesitantly peeked inside. What we saw was a baby sea turtle in a small pile of sand. In broken English, the man explained that this turtle was injured, and needed to go to the “hospital.”
But then he invited us to follow him, saying, “More, more.” Curious, we followed him to the beach. There, he began digging in the sand. After a while, we began to see little baby sea turtles climbing out of the hole. He invited us to join him, and I began digging. Some of the turtles were still crawling out of their eggs. At one point, I pulled an egg out of the sand, and the turtle literally hatched in my hand. Once we had helped to “deliver” some 200 baby sea turtles, we worked together to guide them to the water. It was dark by this time, and we held flashlights to mimic the light of the moon. You see, with sea turtles, you can’t just dump them in the water and wish them well. They NEED to make the journey to the water themselves, otherwise they won’t be able to find their way back when it’s time to nest.
Why all this human intervention? Wouldn’t the turtles do all of this on their own, in good time? Well, we learned that there is a major problem with predatory birds, and that if unassisted, many of the turtles wouldn’t even make it to the water. As it was, we were told that many of these turtles wouldn’t survive their first year. But the more we could get to the water, the better their chances of survival. There was this one turtle who kept getting turned around, heading away from the water, and crawling up my foot. I felt a connection with him and SO wanted to sneak him home and raise him in my bathtub. But the prospect of $10,000 in fines and 10 years in a Mexican prison ultimately dissuaded me.
Finally, after turning quite a few turtles around and slowly leading them to the water, our task was complete. We bid adieu to our new friend and thanked him for the experience of a lifetime. We also bid adieu to our babies, wishing them good luck and Godspeed. And when I got home, I chose a tattoo that would commemorate the experience. (Nowadays, you can pay outfitters to manufacture this kind of thing, but that seems to lack authenticity.)
You know, it’s kind of like divine appointments—where God puts us in just the right place and at just the right time to be part of something AMAZING. And while I’m not sure that the social climate of today is ripe for following some stranger down a darkened beach, I think we do need to be open to God’s leading. Speak when he tells us to speak. Listen when he tells us to listen. Smile at someone who seems to need it. And who knows, we just might be in for the experience of a lifetime.