This story is an excerpt from “Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger Through Yoga.” It is dedicated to my father, a ‘man of substance,’ who taught me to love all animals, and to protect those who cannot fight for themselves.
As humans, we are given the gift of choice.
It is a powerful gift.
If a yogi means to be fully awake and aware, then I became a yogi when I was 10 years old. My father and a turtle led the way.
Of course, I didn’t yet know it. Becoming a yogi back then was about the furthest thing from my mind. I was pretty occupied with boys and Barbie and Bobby Sherman. My world had seemed important then, but soon I would have to choose if I could stand up for another being that had no voice at all.
Choosing between the easy thing, and the right thing, is yoga.
My father had taken us on vacation to the British Virgin Islands. It was a confusing time in our lives, so if you are confused then by all means spend more time with a pre-adolescent.
At dinner, the waiter said we could not miss the resort’s famous turtle soup.
“What makes the soup so good?” my Dad asked.
“We use our own turtles,” the waiter replied.
We were speechless. There are turtles in turtle soup? I thought it was like chocolate “turtles,” which are caramel, and Welsh rarebit, which is cheese and toast, no “rabbit.”
After dinner we walked down the beach to a stone wall. I was tip toeing along the top when I saw something splash. Then I saw a flipper, and when I bent down closer, I saw a face.
“Dad,” I screeched. “There are turtles in here!” We stared in silence.
Until that night my world had been all about me, but looking into the turtle’s face made me realize I was not walking alone in this life. I was sharing this planet with other beings. I had a responsibility to make the world better. Neither my father, nor I, could leave that turtle in the pen to die.
“Nobody has the right to kill a turtle,” my dad said.
For the next few nights we worked quickly and precisely. One by one we freed the turtles. On the last night we realized we had been discovered. There was a sign that said anyone caught poaching would be imprisoned. Ending the vacation in jail was not the bonding experience Dad had in mind.
By now, only the largest turtles remained, particularly one giant turtle. He looked extremely sad to me, as if he knew he was just too big to get over the wall. I started to cry. My dad cannot take the tears.
“All right,” Dad said. “We will try to set him free.”
A choice is not often obvious. There may not be anyone else on your side. But you know you have done the right thing when you cannot live with yourself having done anything else. That night, we chose the turtles over the law.
Together we coaxed the largest turtle to the sandy edge of the pen, and then we somehow managed to boost him up and over scraping his thick shell on the rocky wall. The turtle tumbled into the water and just before he swam into freedom, he turned and gazed at us. I thought he might have said thank you.
As humans, we are given the gift of choice. It is a powerful gift. We choose what to believe. We choose who we love. We choose when to fight, and when to lay down our sword. We choose our path.
Yoga is only a little bit about the postures. The postures have the power to reveal who we are when things get difficult. Yoga is about being who we were meant to be.
Neither I nor my Dad had heard of yoga in 1970. But that night we became yogis. If yoga is about leaving the world a better place, then in that moment there was no question but that we had to save the turtles.
Michelle Berman Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. This is an excerpt from her book, Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga (Hohm Press, 2015). Her father is the veterinarian Dr. Lewis Berman, who if given a choice, would still free a turtle today.