A couple of years ago I was asked to serve as one of the “Celebrity Readers” during a book fair at my granddaughter’s school. I don’t know how far down the barrel they had to go to consider me a “celebrity”, but that’s a whole different story. I was instructed to choose one of my favorite children’s books and read it out loud to a group of anxious kids with their toothless smiles. Certainly they would be impressed by my ability to pronounce multi-syllabic words without having to look at the pictures. It was a true test of my ability to prove I was a “grown up”. Therefore, of course, I choose a Dr. Seuss book!
You can’t go wrong with Dr. Seuss! His “Cat in the Hat” stories are classics. But my favorite Dr. Seuss book has always been “Yertle the Turtle”. I like that little hard-shell guy because he reminds me so much of myself. Like many those around him, he finds himself stuck in the normal routine of “turtle life”. The scenery is all pretty bland from his viewpoint, and nothing much every changes. It’s not all that exciting, but it’s all he knows.
The King of the Turtles, however, enjoyed a much better view of the world around him. To get that view he had to step on and sit on top of an entire stack of other turtles. Like the old cliche says, “If you see a turtle sitting on top of a fencepost, you know he didn’t get there by himself.” Obviously it’s not so great to be one of the turtles in the stack, but they were always told to accept their lot in life so that their King could tell them what he saw. It was nice to be the King.
Yertle refused to accept his role as a member of the turtle stack — he longed to be King. Unfortunately, to do so he had to start stepping on other turtles to climb higher in the stack. He wasn’t exactly proud of what he had to do, but it was getting him where he wanted to go. He could justify his actions because he was making progress……and progress is all that mattered to him. With each new level came a better view of the world around him……as long as he didn’t look back down the stack and see all the turtles he had stepped on to get there.
Inevitably, Yertle does make it to the top of the turtle stack and proclaims himself the “King of All He Sees”…..the trees, the birds, the butterflies, the air! But, of course, he wasn’t! And when little Mack the turtle sneezed on the bottom of the turtle stack, Yertle and all his turtle friends came tumbling back down to earth. Yertle was no longer “King of All He Sees” because he was covered in mud and couldn’t see anything. He had come crashing back to reality.
In the world we live in there are plenty of opportunities to “climb the stack”, stepping on others as we go. Getting ahead and making something out of yourself is almost an American mantra. And I guess down deep I can’t believe there’s anything wrong with the idea of bettering yourself. God gave us brains and abilities, and I actually think he wants us to use them. In fact, our lack of effort sometimes speaks volumes about the type of people we really are!
But I can’t help but wonder if we’re not just a little too much like Yertle sometimes, somewhat oblivious to the others we are stepping on as we climb the ladder. Certainly we are all on this journey together, and everyone is striving to be the best they can be. It’s inevitable that we will advance at different rates, meaning one person’s good fortune is often at the expense of someone else. We can’t control a lot of that so we just accept that as the reality of living in our own “turtle stack”. There are the “haves” and “have nots”, and a whole bunch of turtles in-between. We can’t take care of all of them….we have to keep climbing to get the best view possible of the world around us. We believe they can climb too, if they really want to,……or at least that’s what we tell ourselves to justify leaving them behind.
As Christians we are not insulated from the realities of life. We, too, are climbing to make the most of our lives for ourselves and our families. But we are called to live by a higher standard than the rest of the turtles in our stack. 1 John 4 says we are called to live a life reflecting the love of THE KING. It is not our supreme desire to become the king of our stack, but to demonstrate the love of the KING OF KINGS wherever we find ourselves in the pile. That may mean slowing down and helping others take the next step or re-evaluating our priorities and climbing strategies. It certainly means noticing those who are all around us and being aware of how our actions are affecting them. I can’t help but believe that we are, indeed, called to climb higher, but to do so with one hand reaching up and the other reaching down to help another “turtle”.
Perhaps there’s a little Yertle in all of us that needs a priority adjustment. I’m sure the view is cool on the top of the pile, but wouldn’t it be more fun to share it with some of those you brought along with you? It seems to me that would be enough to make any turtle proud!
Sitting on a Fence Post……and knowing how I got there!