Timothy the Turtle and the Spiritual Awakening by Lisa Fox

No one would ever know if Timothy the Turtle’s arrival at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church was a well-timed prank, or a tiny miracle.

Sometime between the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm at the first Friday children’s mass after Easter, he’d wandered through a maze of potted lilies on the altar. Prehistoric feet pressed into the plush carpet as he ventured out, one agonizingly long step at a time. Timothy stopped at the altar’s edge, facing the pre-pubescent, parochial-school-uniformed congregants giggling on either side of the center aisle.

A canopy of floral blooms shielded him from the prism of sunlight streaming through the stained glass—fortuitous for Timothy, lest he be dismissed as a painted rock and not the majestic, fist-sized shell-adorned creature he truly was. He stretched his tongue, pink flesh rotating in a perfect clockwise swirl as he lapped up the incense laden air. A blast of organ music, like a smack of wind from the Holy Spirit, popped open his heavily lidded eyes in a spiritual awakening. Timothy raised his head heavenward, wrinkled neck smoothing like the stem of a blooming tulip as he stretched and reached as far as his body would allow. As the Hallelujah chorus rocked the church in a joyful awakening, Timothy felt the voices tingling deep within the sanctity of his shell, all the way to his soul. He closed his eyes and let the music move him in a head-bobbing bliss.

Timothy swayed until the last notes drifted into silence. As a whisper descended over the church, Timothy quieted, watching Father Joe saunter past. Approaching the pulpit, the priest’s flowing robes swished against the outskirts of the lily field where Timothy had emerged from his refuge. He turned his head, listening to the good news booming from the microphone. Soothed by words of love and kindness and salvation, Timothy yawned, retracting his head to surrender to a much-needed nap.

“I suppose my homily is boring him.” Father Joe chuckled, gesturing toward the sleeping Timothy.

The children roared, pointing at the tired turtle, but it wasn’t enough to rouse him.

But it was enough to draw the red-faced attention of Sister Mary Ellen. The third graders gasped as she bolted from the pew and stormed the altar, grasping the turtle and thrusting him into her pocket. Past a tightly controlled lip quiver, a little girl mumbled, “Please, Lord, spare him from the wrath of Sister’s wooden ruler.”

The church was never the same after Timothy’s arrival, and neither was Sister Mary Ellen’s classroom. Spitballs and note-passing were replaced by competitions to see who could be quietest, sit straightest, offer up the neatest penmanship. For Timothy enjoyed a comfortable, hand-crafted shoebox home on Sister’s desk, joining the children for morning prayers and lessons; the coveted honor of feeding him a reward for best behavior.

And in those quiet moments when she thought no one was watching, Sister Mary Ellen lifted the turtle from his box, cradling him in her hands. She rubbed her thumb over his rough and ancient shell, smiling as she whispered prayers for her children and her church, grateful for the friend whose small footprints left such large imprints.

Tiny miracle, indeed.

Lisa Fox is a pharmaceutical market researcher by day and fiction writer by night. She thrives in the chaos of suburbia, residing in New Jersey (USA) with her husband and two sons. Her work has been featured in Metaphorosis, New Myths, and Brilliant Flash Fiction among other journals and anthologies. You can find Lisa and her published work via her website: lisafoxiswriting.com, on Facebook (lisafoxiswriting) or on Twitter (@iamlisafox10800).