I wrote a poem for a class assignment about my pet snapping turtle when I was seven years old. It was called “Yurtle the Turtle” and I remember how therapeutic it was to write it, because Yurtle had died crossing the street after being set free.
The only lines from the poem I still remember are:
Yurtle the turtle lived in a window well,
Yurtle the turtle was swell.
The strangest thing happened when my book, Rays of Hope in Times of Loss – Courage and Comfort for Grieving Hearts, was about to go to print. I was aware of how frightened I was at the prospect of sharing this book with the world, so full of serious poetry – something I’d never dared to do before. I even wrote about Yurtle and how I’d not written serious poetry since that time, speculating that it must have been because no other poetry assignments had been required.
But the uneasiness I felt was so persistent. I finally asked myself, “Why are you so afraid of this? What is making this fear so intense?” And within a few seconds, it became clear to me from a memory I’d forgotten. It is the rest of the story about Yurtle.
My teacher liked the Yurtle poem so much that she read it in class, and had made copies for other teachers to read in their classes. I remember feeling a bit embarrassed when out of the blue she was reading my poem. But soon it passed and I’d survived and class was on to the next lessons. But then when we were let out of class for recess and I entered the busy hallway of our school, a boy in the crowd whom I didn’t know, began mocking the poem. He repeatedly chanted, “Yurtle, Yurtle the turtle, was SWELL. Ha ha! Yurtle the turtle was swell!” He was so loud and got a lot of attention from his chanting, which caused a small crowd of kids to look at me and laugh.
Being the shy kid that I was, I said nothing. But I sure felt something. Pure humiliation. I felt stupid, like a big loser, as uncool as anyone could get. It was a relief to escape to the playground, and luckily the kid and his fans didn’t follow me. My seven-year-old brain reached multiple distorted conclusions from this event.
1. You are a terrible writer and poet;
2. Writing poems means you will be humiliated;
3. To prevent humiliation, don’t write any more poems.
4. Or if you write any poems, don’t share them.
5. Especially the serious ones!
So this was it! The uneasiness I felt in releasing Rays of Hope was about fear of humiliation. And just like that, I was emancipated from this fear. I could see the root of the fear and put it in its place. I have since named social fears of this nature, “The Turtle Hurdle.” The Turtle Hurdle is about obstacles that appear in our path, which we allow to stop us when we are moving toward our goals. But if we persist in putting the obstacle in proper perspective, we can fly over the hurdle and succeed. And it's not at a turtle's pace, either!