Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! I mean – dolphins, sea turtles and sharks, oh vey! My family and I encountered intriguing creatures of the deep on a recent trip to the Keys, and nu, we survived. Not only did we live to tell the tale of our encounters, I came away with a deeper sense of these animals and invaluable insights into human life and community as well. In truth, I only caught a fleeting glimpse of a nurse shark, but face to face meetings with sea turtles and dolphins more than compensated. At the Turtle Rescue Hospital we went on a tour and saw the many sea turtles that had been rescued and were being treated for a wide range of diseases and injuries. At the Dolphin Research Center we had the opportunity to not only see the dolphins swim around but to get in the water to interact one on one with Flagler and Gypsi, our new dolphin friends.
One thing you notice very quickly is the injuries and scars on their bodies. The dolphins are covered in scratches. Their caregivers told us not to worry. These scratches come from play and dolphin skin is incredibly resilient, renewing itself in a matter of hours.
In contrast, some of the turtles suffer from injuries that require a lifetime of supportive care from humans. One turtle, Bubble Butt, had been struck in the back of his shell by a boat. This forces air bubble into the wrong places and meant that Bubble Butt could no longer dive to where his food was. The doctors at the hospital glued weights on to his shell to compensate and give the turtle the opportunity to feed. Unlike the dolphins, this is not a self-correcting process. In fact, when Bubble Butt (and others with similar injuries) sheds the top layer of his shell, as turtles do each year, it makes the problem worse. The weights fall off too and require human assistance to reattach them.
At this time of the year, as the Jewish communities prepare for the High Holy Days, we focus on a powerful statement that mirrors what I witnessed with the dolphins and turtles. “For sins against God the Day of Atonement atones, but for sins of one human being against another the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.” What I saw with dolphins and turtles was not sinning-it was the opposite-holy care giving but in a strange way, the dynamic of action was exactly the same. With the dolphins, they take care of the healing themselves. It is like sins against God. We may create the wounds as we interact with others, but the experience of healing and change is an individual, personal process. The turtles, they require support and interactions from their friends. If the turtles were not in a place where they had care from others, they would not be able to heal and survive.
As we think about the dolphins and the turtles we have to find ways to invest in both of these styles of action. We have to take time to identify the positive actions we do for ourselves on daily, weekly , monthly, annual basis that renew us, body, mind and spirit. We have to cultivate and practice these activities so that we can be balanced, healthy and offer our best selves to the world.
We also have to consider which activities of renewal and healing we need our friends to help us with. We have to more than identify the experiences. We also have to expend the energy to develop the relationships and build the communities where we can get this support and where we can offer it to others. The turtles and the texts of Jewish tradition remind us to make the effort to reach out – to make connections and to be receptive – to catch hold of others looking for those who need our help.