The Fable of the Young Turtle

There once was a young turtle, his shell had just hardened and his mother, though prone to worrying, finally let him out to play with the rest of the animals.

So the young turtle went first towards the trees, and in the branches sat a charm of tiny finches, singing their little hearts out. And the young turtle called out to them, “Little birds! Little birds! You sing so beautifully! Teach me how to sing!” But no matter how hard they tried, the finches could not teach the turtle to sing. The young turtle was sad, and when he left, the finches worried to each other, saying “How sweet is the young turtle, though he can’t sing. I hope he will visit us again.”

The young turtle next went towards a pond, and on the lillypads were a knot of tiny frogs, jumping to and fro as high as they could. And the young turtle called out to them, “Little frogs! Little frogs! You jump so high! Teach me how to jump!” But no matter how hard they tried, the frogs could not teach the turtle to jump. The young turtle was sad, and when he left, the frogs worried to each other, saying “How sweet is the young turtle, though he can’t jump. I hope he will visit us again.”

The young turtle next went towards a field, and in the grass ran a coterie of prairie dogs, digging and digging as fast as they could in the packed ground. And the young turtle called out to them, “Little dogs! Little dogs! You dig so fast! Teach me how to dig!” But no matter how hard they tried, the prairie dogs could not teach the turtle to dig in the packed ground. The young turtle was sad, and when he left, the prairie dogs worried to each other, saying “How sweet is the young turtle, though he can’t dig. I hope he will visit us again.”

Home the young turtle went, face long and heart heavy, for he could do nothing the other animals could do. As he walked, he passed by an ancient, wizened tortoise who, though old and slow, knew much of what was happening in the forest. When he saw the young turtle walking so dejected, he called out “Young turtle! Young turtle! Why is your face long and your heart heavy?” The turtle replied, “I can not sing like the birds, nor jump like the frogs, nor dig like the dogs! I can do nothing but feel sorrow, so I will go home and never talk to the other animals again.”

The old tortoise replied, “Early this morning, I saw a charm of finches fly by, and they were saying ‘How sweet is the young turtle, though he can’t sing. I hope he will visit us again.’ At noon, I saw a knot of frogs hop by, and they were saying ‘How sweet is the young turtle, though he can’t jump. I hope he will visit us again.’ This evening, I saw a coterie of prairie dogs walk by, and they were saying ‘How sweet is the young turtle, though he can’t dig. I hope he will visit us again.’ What need you to sing, when you have the love of the birds? What need you to jump, when you have the love of the frogs? What need you to dig, when you have the love of the dogs? Your talent is to love, and it is far greater to have love than to be able to do all the things you wish to do. If you could sing but cannot love, who would you sing to? If you could jump but cannot love, where would you jump to? If you could dig but cannot love, who would you dig with? Little turtle, little turtle, you have the greatest gift of all!”

So the little turtle went home with a happy face and a light heart, and when he wished to hear a song, he went to the birds to play. And when he wished to see an acrobat, he went to the frogs to play. And when he wished to explore the earth, he went to the prairie dogs to play. The little turtle was never lonely, and grew to be as old and wizened as the ancient tortoise.

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