As I was preparing dinner last night, a report on the nightly news caught my attention. Apparently, yesterday in the midst of a busy day at New York’s JFK airport, air traffic on some runways was halted due, not to threats of terrorism, but to the presence of turtles. Terrapins, to be exact. It seems the turtles are making their way across certain runways in pursuit of laying their eggs in the sand of Jamaica Bay which borders the airport. It also seems this is a yearly activity that has often played havoc with the comings and goings of jumbo jets and the pilots who fly them. It was fascinating to listen to the air traffic controllers and pilots report to one another the progress of the lumbering turtles while they waited to take to the air headed toward far flung places around the world. To hear the humor and compassion in their voices was really quite remarkable.
For some reason it reminded me of my pilgrimage last year on the island of Iona. Before we began what was to be our three and a half hour walk around the holy sites that dot the lovely isle, our guide reminded us:” Remember. On pilgrimage we travel at the pace of the slowest pilgrim.” I watched as anxiety flashed across a few faces. Some in our group were quite fit and perhaps had seen this walk as exercise for the muscles and heart as well as the soul. But with the intention clearly stated, we journeyed on together, each of learning to match our rhythm to one another until we became, not individuals, but a community of pilgrims. The walk actually took us nearly twice the time we had planned but no one minded because we had come to know ourselves as now intricately woven together on this journey.
Thinking of the turtles and the wisdom gained in this pilgrimage experience, I pondered how often we forget about those who travel more slowly than our own pace. It becomes so easy to walk over or at least around them. I also thought about how often these days it seems we hold so little value for the sometimes smaller, more vulnerable around us. For those who live on the edges of our society, those who need the care and attention of all who are stronger and have more resources. It becomes easy to push ahead with our powerful force ignoring all that is in our way. We do this in a physical way sometimes but mostly we do it with how we organize our common life together as neighborhoods, as cities, as nations.
The terrapins who are making their way across runways and past enormous metal people-movers, do so for one reason: to bring life to the world. What endeavor is more noble, more holy than that? And so, for all the pilots, the baggage handlers, and the controllers who watched these slow moving beings make their own pilgrimage in the busiest airport in our country, I offer thanks. Thanks for your patience and self-control. Thanks for your compassion and humor. Thanks for remembering that on this pilgrimage we call life, it is always a right and good thing, to travel at the pace of the slowest pilgrim.
When we do, we are often offered the promise of new life.