The Hundred-and-Twenty-Second Letter: Solidarity with the Tortoise

Dear Daughters,

Over the last few months of our socially distanced life, we’ve begun a new Sunday morning tradition: family bike rides. 

It’s one of the perks of your getting older, to be honest, that we can do things like this. Just after your birthdays, for which you both received new bikes and helmets, baskets, bells, and water bottle holders, we optimistically purchased a four-bike rack that attaches to the hitch of our Outback. 

So now, on many Sunday mornings after breakfast, we load up the bikes and head down to a local paved bike trail just south of our little town. 

It’s a gorgeous trail: wide and well-paved, hilly but not too rigorous, beautifully winding through the back of ridiculously picturesque farmland. We manage to see quite a bit of flora and fauna as we ride—this last week, there was a turkey ruffling its tail feathers, a hummingbird, grasshoppers, and lots of flowers worth your commentary.

I could write about the solidarity of the trail and the encouraging words we get from the more hardcore biking population, or I could write about the grumpy bikers who reprimand us if we don’t behave according to the unwritten rules of the trail when we park alongside it. But I’m not going to.

What I want to write about is the tortoise.

As in, The Tortoise. The famous one.

You see, usually on these family bike rides, I am fourth in line, riding and encouraging the youngest member of our family. You know who you are. You say we are “bike buddies.” Zooming up ahead is your dad with the Bean. We know they’ll stop at our designated rest points, and we don’t worry about what they’re doing while we bike along, counting the bridges and the painted designs on the path, pointing out every single pokeberry plan that hangs over the fences.

Last Sunday, I heard myself say, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

It’s such a cliché and honestly I find it to be one of the more annoying sayings. Maybe it’s because I am a slow and deliberate person in just about everything I do—running? Definitely slow. Cleaning? Definitely slow. Making decisions? Definitely slow. But I feel resentful about the “wins the race” part of the moral. 

Because I’m not slow and careful because there’s a race that is in need of winning and I think this is the best way to win it. I just am a slow and thoughtful person. It’s my superpower. And I’m okay coming in last place. Your dad teases me all the time about my lack of competitiveness. 

Anyway, I said it, and since I couldn’t take it back, instead I asked if you remembered what it was from, and then we chatted a little bit about The Tortoise and the Hare and also about Aesop’s fables generally. You really love the fables and have an uncanny ability to recall them.

As we were talking, I remembered an audio version of The Tortoise and the Hare that we listened to a few years ago on a road trip. In that telling, the Hare is antagonizing all of the animals into racing him. He keeps bragging about how impressive his physical prowess was, and his motivation for racing is to prove that he was indeed the fastest in order to achieve broader acclaim.

Basically, the Hare is not just prideful and rude, but he is a great, big  jerk.

When the Hare loses, it’s because he is too cocky. His loss actually has nothing to do with the tortoise’s slow and steady pace at all when you think about it. Any competitor would beat him. Because he is too cocky. Because he is a great big jerk.

When we listened to that fable in the car, I remember leaning over and telling you dad that the moral of the story is not at all “slow and steady wins the race.” 

To some extent, the moral of the story is more along these lines: don’t be a great big jerk.

But if you really want to focus on the Tortoise, you could say the moral of the story is, keep on keeping on, even when others are great big jerks.

I feel like both of those are much better and more honest messages. 

Because, of course, if the Hare hadn’t been cocky, the Tortoise would not have won. No matter how slow and steady he was. No matter how strong of moral character and conviction. He would have lost because the Hare was faster.

But the Tortoise kept going, which is really the best part of the whole thing. 

It doesn’t matter that he won.

That is actually completely beside the point.


Your Momma