The Hindus believe that the world is held in place by four elephants balanced on the back of a turtle. (Well, probably not all Hindus, any more than all Christians believe in an evil, talking snake and isn’t that its own lovely bit of slander.) That’s a lot of pressure for the shy little chelonian to shoulder, literally and metaphorically. I mean, try to look at it from his perspective. He has the good sense to evolve a complex, segmented protective carapace – please take with a grain of salt the eagle’s attempt to steal credit for that one – and what does he get for the trouble? He’s expected to be a doormat for four overweight behemoths who did nothing but grow until they were too big to be prey. Isn’t that always how it works out? You spend millions of years working out a uniquely brilliant answer to the most basic of evolutionary quandaries, and all you get for your trouble is an eternity of four lazy idiots standing on your back telling you not to move around so much.

Don’t even get me started on the house-on-his-back thing you’re all so glib about. A shell is not a house. You try living in a backpack and see how well it suits you. A turtle’s shell is a part of himself, and a rather ingenious one at that, but he can’t hide in his shell any more than you can hide under your fingernails. It’s not an excuse for you to deny him the comforts of a greater habitat. “Oh, it’s okay”, you tell yourself as you dump your fetid waste into his river; “he carries his home on his back.” You selfish, arrogant vandal. Maybe I’ll dump five tons of turtle shit into your brownstone. Will you thank me for not injecting it directly under your skin?

I’m sorry. Look, I get a little heated sometimes. You just don’t think. I get it; I really do. There’s something about the turtle that is very distant, and it’s easy to make decisions for him in his absence. He’s shy. You can’t get close to a turtle. You can watch, from the shore, as he basks on a rock in the middle of a pond. Get too close, though, and SPLISH! He’s gone before you can say, “slow as a turtle.” So you’re never going to be able to ask his permission. He has no interest in engaging you in conversation. You like to say that shy people need to “come out of their shells”. Well, he can’t. Stop harassing him.

You know what you could do, if you wanted to make amends? Stop being so lazy about his name. He’s a turtle. He’s not a tortoise. There’s a difference, okay? It’s not even that hard. Turtles live in the water, tortoises live on land. He’s not trying to be self-righteous about this. He understands that everybody makes mistakes. It’s your apathy that bothers him. “Oh, turtles, tortoises… what’s the difference?” you’ll ask dismissively, and when he tries to explain it to you, you’ll zone out, indifferent to his need for identity. It’s really starting to get to him. He’s started a support group, you know. Frogs and toads joined last week. Their meetings are quiet, but extremely therapeutic.

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