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Sometimes you’re the turtle, and sometimes you’re the truck

Sometimes you’re the turtle, and sometimes you’re the truck.

Though I can still hear my late father’s stern reminders to never pull over for any reason because we would most certainly die, my sister’s heart always drowns out her brain — something I can’t help admiring — which is what led her to stop yesterday morning when she saw a turtle crossing the road.

Moments after Mary left her car and began walking toward it to toss it into the grass, a passing pickup truck picked up a little speed and swerved hard into the bike lane, aiming for and killing the turtle. Stunned, shaken and unable to process what she just saw, Mary did what we always do in times of trauma, even in adulthood: call Mom, whose practicality always takes precedence over emotion, something that comes in handy when a real-life John Steinbeck narrative plays out in front of you on the highway.

“Sometimes you’re the turtle,” Mom said. “And sometimes you’re the truck.”

Steinbeck’s symbolic tale of a turtle’s trek across the road in “The Grapes of Wrath” followed a similar series of events. You have the humane driver of the speeding car who swerved to miss the turtle, and you have the truck that intentionally steered toward it, clipping its shell and sending it right back to where it started on the side of the road. It ends with the turtle continuing on its journey despite the setback — a dominant theme in the novel — whereas my sister’s experience ended with a dead turtle and little to take away from it other than the life lesson that bad things happen sometimes and there’s not much you can do about it.

Mom is mostly right. Sometimes you’re the turtle, walking along minding your own business when tragedy strikes or someone sets out to set you back. Sometimes you’re the truck, careless and cruelly inconsiderate of the impact your decisions have on the rest of the world. And sometimes you’re the person who pulls over because you know it’s the right thing to do, even when you don’t make it in time to do the right thing.

It takes courage to continue being that person when it doesn’t work out. And in that respect, my little sister might be the bravest person I know.

Alex McDaniel is editor of the Oxford Eagle. Contact her at alex.mcdaniel@oxfordeagle.com.