The turtle tank gurgled softly in the corner of the classroom. I watched the turtle heads poke up for air before ducking back under the water. My seven-year-old self wanted to go swimming. I fiddled with a long, thin piece of wood that had marks and numbers evenly spaced along the edge. What had Mom called it?
Miss Hawkins stood by the white board, reading instructions to me and my classmates.
“Does everyone have their rulers?” she asked.
I looked at the piece of wood in my hands. Oh, a ruler. That’s what it was.
“Open your test booklets…”
I opened my booklet. My fingers felt clumsy. I had never taken an achievement test before. I wasn’t even sure what achievement meant.
“Raise your hand if you have any questions.”
I raised my hand. Miss Hawkins walked to my desk, her eyes kind and her voice gentle.
I held up the ruler. “What’s this for?” I whispered.
She smiled. “It’s a ruler.”
“But what do I—”
“Just do your best,” she said.
I thought about her answer. It didn’t seem extremely helpful.
I looked at the turtles with their short legs paddling happily. Turtles were lucky. They never had to use rulers.
I looked at the ruler in my hand. Maybe I couldn’t use a ruler, but I knew how to swim—bobbing up and down under the water like a turtle. I could hold my breath underwater until my head felt dizzy. I wished that Miss Hawkins could see me swim. I wished I was somewhere, anywhere else but in the classroom with a test booklet and a wooden stick with numbers on it. I wished I were a turtle. The thought made me smile.
Years later, I sat at a different desk, taking another test. Kind Miss Hawkins had been replaced with a bearded professor at the front of the room.
The air felt tense in the test-taking hush. Students around me gnawed at their pencils and filled in bubbles on machine-gradable answer sheets. The Essential Science midterm held us in its fearful clutches.
Just do your best. I told myself. But really, I wanted to escape. Deep down, I wanted to be somewhere—anywhere—else. Being a turtle, preferably one with a very thick shell, seemed like an excellent idea.
Do your best. I don’t want to be here. Do your best. Anywhere but this. Do your best. Get me out of here.
We all have moments when we want to escape. Difficulties. Boredom. People. The Daily Grind. Like the main character in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, we all have days when we would rather be in Australia or anywhere else but the place where we are.
The psalmist wrote in Psalm 55, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.…I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.” Even King David, writing three thousand years ago, desired escape from his problems. The get-me-out-of-here feeling is nothing new.
In fact, whether you want to become a dove or a turtle, escape is a legitimate longing. The concept of escape gives us hope. You may have never wanted to be a turtle, but I bet you’ve wanted to escape from something.
Vacations, Instagram, long showers, afternoon naps—escapes are not inherently bad. Quick getaways from reality sharpen our perspective on daily life. Readers and writers are especially skilled at plunging into stories when life gets a little too real or a little too heartbreaking.
In the end, we must face our problems, but escapes—or rather, get-aways—help us remember that our problems are not inescapable. Problems feel smaller when we set them aside—just for a few moments. Seven-year-old me realized that math problems shrink to size when viewed from the perspective of a turtle. My college-student self still longs for escape on the tough days. And that’s okay.
Don’t be ashamed of making brief get-aways. Escapes aren’t meant to be forever, but sometimes we need to hide in our imaginary turtle shells just long enough for our problems to go back down to size.