Discover more from Shalom Auslander's Fetal Position
The Heretical Turtles of Venice Beach
"Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run." – Pink Floyd
I was taking a much-needed walk around town the other day, trying to not think about God or death or mortality or existence or meaning or free will or being or non-being, when I passed an old, frame-mounted Bible quote someone had discarded in a filthy alley beside the doorway of a derelict building. I really needed the walk (for a great read about the need for writers to walk — slowly, without a goal, without a destination — check out Brenda Euland’s If You Want to Write), and wanted to continue upon my way, but my curiosity got the better of me and I stopped to take a closer look.
This is what the sign said:
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
The corners of the hanging had been secured with blue tape, as if to protect it from falls, but the tape was now worn through, and peeling, and the word God had been defaced with blue ink.
Or perhaps had it been decorated with blue ink?
Perhaps that was the Sign Owner's way of celebrating God?
But if Sign Owner liked God enough to jazz up the word God, why would he or she dump the sign in a dirty alleyway?
Maybe they had forgotten it there, I thought. Maybe they sat down for a minute to rest, forgot it when they left and were right now frantically looking for it . "Dammit, Larry, I told you to keep an eye on it! It’s the fucking word of God!"
But why were they carrying it?
And where were they going?
I continued on my way, but questions continued to plague me.
The sentiment itself seemed odd. Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us? Why would God set a race before us? Is this fun for him? Does God find this amusing, watching us scurry around, competing, fighting? Wouldn't life be immeasurably better without the whole racing thing? Not to mention the very important fact that this race isn’t a race any of us signed up for. We were forced into it. A race you’re forced to race in isn’t a race, it's a death march. It's Bataan.
Guess what happens if you stop marching.
Guess what happens when you get to the end.
And yet somehow, inexplicably, Paul the Apostle (who supposedly wrote Hebrews, the book from which the race quote is pulled) wants me to thank The Guard forcing me down the road at gunpoint? It's not the only time racing comes up in the Bible. There's also “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?” from 1 Corinthians (which is not just about racing but about winning, which is even more troublesome, God-wise). And “Hold forth the word of life, that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain (Philippians 2:16).” And “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7-8). What is the obsession with racing?
(A brief aside here, if I may: “Timothy?” I don't know, Christians — I have my problems with Judaism, but at least we don’t have prophets named Timothy. I don't get wisdom from a Timothy. “Flee from sin commanded… Tim?” “The Lord your, King of the Universe, All-Powerful Head Honcho has spoken through… Timmy?” It's like a prophet being named Sid or Ralph or Henry. It just doesn't work. "Kneel before the Lord your God!" commanded Ralph. Fuck off, Ralph.)
I walked on, trying to banish the quote and God from my mind, but this was Los Angeles, America, 2023, and all around me God's cruel race was underway: there were winners on Rodeo Drive in Teslas, and losers on the corner begging for a dollar; some people were in the lead, some had long ago crashed out, the former taking credit for their success, the latter taking blame, but neither as responsible for their fates as they believe; some had started the race in first and celebrated their wins as if they had started from the back; some had started dead last, and tried their best, but the race was rigged the whole time, and when the spectators mocked their poor performance, they believed they deserved it. Everyone was jockeying for position, relentlessly, joylessly, thinking only of whatever trophy they were told was waiting for them around the next corner. I began to hate whoever left the sign there — not just for ruining my walk, but for being okay with this ludicrous race, for not rejecting it, for praising God for setting it up in the first place.
And that was when I remembered the turtles:
Some weeks earlier, I had walked past an Irish pub where, twice a month, they hold turtle races. It's a grand time for everyone but the turtles, who are designed neither for racing nor for Irish pubs. When it's time to race, the turtles are lifted from their cages and placed in a small holding pen at the center of a large circle, around which drunken humans gather and shout at them. The humans count down from three to one, the pen is removed, and the turtles race about as the humans shout some more. The first turtle to reach the edge of the circle wins. Then, more shouting. I never went, because I'm not a sick fuck, but I found some footage of the event online, which I present here for your viewing displeasure:
Attentive viewers will quickly notice that the turtles are not, in fact, racing.
The turtles are fleeing.
It's not a race, it's a pogrom.
The turtles are not thinking, "I'd like to run with endurance the race these humans have set before me."
They're thinking, "Fuck this shit. I’m outta here."
And so, thinking back on those noble turtles as I continued my walk, I grew cautiously hopeful. Perhaps the Bible Sign Owner was doing the same thing as the turtles. Perhaps after years of running God's race, he or she decided to stop. Perhaps Sign Owner didn't leave the sign there by mistake. Perhaps, like the turtles, they decided to flee. Perhaps they tossed the damned poster in the alley, wiped their hands and thought, "Fuck this shit. I'm outta here."
It was certainly nice to think so.
Yours in the fetal position,