Last month I talked about the stories, families, and the lizards in the Harkey Valley cemetery, and how I loved watching my daughter explore the field stones on Decoration Day. I didn’t follow her around the cemetery that day because I didn’t want my leg to swell. I had recently had the first step in a small MOHS-style surgery on my calf to remove a melanoma skin cancer.
That’s been a few months now, and all that remains is a small scar. The doctor says the cancer is gone, but I must watch diligently for future spots. That afternoon at the cemetery I was in between procedures and filled with fears and memories of watching my own father almost die from melanoma. My father was there with us that day. At 80 years old, he’s 11 years out from his second round of life threatening melanoma. But I vividly remember that battle.
Over the course of my own melanoma procedures, I thought a lot about what it meant to embrace slowness. I took stock of all people and patterns in my life that bring me real joy and peace and push me to do my best work. I thought about what I really wanted to live for and how I want to show up in this short time we have here. Even if I live to be 100, I recognize that’s really nothing more than a quick, darting, lizard-scurrying flash of days.
There is this thing about contemplating your own mortality that takes you back to childhood. When I was a kid, I had a real connection to turtles. Over time I’ve tried to downplay that reality. But if I am being honest, me and turtles… we just click. My dad used to work for the highway department, paving roads in Newton County. Knowing my love for turtles and my endless requests to have more, whenever one would pass through his work site, he would bring it home in the back of his truck. I loved to feed them worms and watch them slowly crawl around the yard. They could move quickly when they chose. But most of the time they didn’t choose that.
I recognize now that taking a turtle from its home isn’t’ a good idea. They live their whole lives within just a short distance of their birth, and whenever they’re crossing the road they are never lost. They’re just on a mission to get back home. But as a kid I didn’t know that, and I populated my backyard with these friends. I knew my Dad loved me because he noticed I loved turtles and honored that connection.
One early morning this summer between my diagnosis and the surgery — a time of high anxiety and fear — I was making my way to my car to head to work and there was a beautiful box turtle right in my path. I nearly tripped on the creature. I stopped to say hello; I showed him to my dog Desto, took pictures so I could show my kids when they woke up, and I told the turtle how much I appreciated him crossing my path. And, if I was being real with myself, just how much I needed to see him that day. Then I picked him up gently and moved him out of the path so he could continue on his way.
I get that there is a turtle in my yard because it was June in Arkansas. There is a turtle in everyone’s yard. But still, I chose to sink into that moment rather than dart away. Like me, this turtle’s family has probably lived for generations on this land. Maybe my grandparents had seen his grandparents. His family might have been here when this was Osage hunting grounds, long before that was stolen. He was most certainly headed somewhere. I’m pretty sure I want to go there too.