A man called Turtle lives at a bend in the road on the way to one of our favorite farm stands. Most times we drive by, we see him sitting on a plastic lawn chair nestled among a small field of lawnmowers in various states of repair. Depending on where the sun is in the Rhode Island sky, he holds court near the front or back of a weatherworn tarp. Sometimes company is over, a friend or two who have planted themselves alongside him all facing the road. When anyone drives by, Turtle always waves. His greeting, framed by a generous smile and a slight raise of his round face, makes me feel like I belong to something special. I’ve never met Turtle, nor do I know why everyone calls him Turtle, but we see each other for a brief moment almost every day, and that’s enough for me to feel welcomed.
I’m often struck how seemingly inconsequential gestures or comments profoundly impact others. A nod, a smile, a quick hello can instantly invite someone to feel part of something bigger than themselves, and we all have memories of a kind soul who included us this way. Many of us have also experienced the pain caused by other simple signals—a look away, a smirk, or a conspicuous silence—that have upended any hope of belonging or budding confidence. I am hopeful that the lessons of our isolation will compel us to commit to including others with greater generosity and reaffirming the importance of a community working together.
When winter comes, Turtle does not take up his post very often, but if I am lucky, he is poking around his mechanical garden when I pass by, and he waves just the same.