Dying for Something Shiny

A coin-consuming sea turtle has died after having eleven pounds of spare change from her stomach and abdominal cavity.

Omsin (as she was called by the Thai press, which is “Piggy Bank” in English) died two weeks after having surgery to remove 915 coins removed from her belly. The weight of the loose change eventually caused a crack in the turtle’s shell, leading to a fatal infection. The official cause of death was an intestinal obstruction, which blocked her protein uptake, combined with nickel toxicity, which damaged her immune system. But the behavior that led to her death was much simpler than that specific diagnosis.

The 25-year-old sea turtle had lived in a pond in the seaside town of Sattahip, which is in Eastern Thailand. Tourists would throw money into the water where she was swimming because of their belief that doing so would bring them good luck. Thais believe throwing coins on a turtle’s back will bring providence and longevity. But of course that would be for the thrower, not the turtle, pointedly so, as it turns out. As you might suspect, metal is not a great diet for seagoing reptiles.

It would be legitimate to say that misguided human beings caused Piggy Bank’s injuries and early death. It would also be true to say that if somehow she’d known not to gulp down the money, she would not have been affected by the actions of those who tossed coins her way.

It seems that Omsin thought the shiny coins were food and would gobble them up. If she’d eaten only one or two, any harm she might have experienced would have been minimal; but over the years of a diet heavy on metal currency, the effect of the weight of the coins and the accumulation of toxins from the metals she’d ingested were a deadly combination.

Members of the Royal Thai Navy were the ones who initially noticed something was not right with the turtle, and she was moved to Bangkok where a team of veterinary doctors tried to help her. They removed the many coins, foreign and domestic, but two weeks later a second surgery was needed, one from which Piggy Bank would not awake.

“Silly reptile,” you might be thinking. “Why would a turtle consume something which has no health benefits and has an innate ability to hurt and endanger?” Well, sea turtles eat jellyfish, squid, sponges and other marine life. Perhaps she consumed the coins because to her, they looked like food. The sheen of the coins reminded her of something else. The money had the appearance of something healthy and life-giving. The truth was, Piggy Bank was killing herself one mouthful after another. She didn’t know it at the time, and maybe she was never aware of it at all, but the adverse effects were adding up all the same. When she was finally diagnosed and treated, too much damage had already been done; she couldn’t recover. Her penchant for shiny things had cost Piggy Bank her life.

Turtles aren’t the only ones who have a hunger for shiny objects. We humans are fond of substances, activities, thoughts and activities that at first look desirable, but when they are taken to heart, turn out to be lethal. Some of those we simply refer to as problems. Others we might call addictions.

Perhaps I’ve become so super-pious (read “self-righteous”) that I can’t be near mere mortals and their heathen ways.  I may have forgotten that scripture clearly teaches we are all sinners; that we all fall short of God’s standard. And even if I admit I may fall short, I may have deceived myself into believing that my sin is not as significant or troublesome as someone else’s.

My problem might be my anger, lust, or desire for things. Maybe I’ve gotten life backwards, using people and loving things when a healthy existence is exactly the opposite of that pattern. To be growing and thriving I will want to love people and use things.

I might be addicted to food, money, popularity, power or revenge. Or my addiction could be alcohol, tobacco, drugs, reading, or media (including movies, binge watching TV programs, or perusing social media sites).

I can be addicted to being nice, being loved, or being right; to sports, or to gossiping about others, to losing weight or winning. I might always require the newest watch, the fastest car, the latest fashions or the “coolest” friends. When any of these (or a host of other possibilities) consumes me, I’m trading good food for bad, going after what’s shiny instead of searching for what’s real. Like a sea turtle eating coins, I’ve traded what’s life-giving for something that is life-taking.

Some of those things I’ve just mentioned aren’t bad in themselves. Having a new computer or a new outfit isn’t a negative, as long as I can afford what I buy and my spending is in balance with the rest of my life. Media can allow me to stay in touch with family and friends and needn’t be an obsessive habit or an avenue for me to judge and condemn other people. But when taken to extremes, money or media, or anything that takes over my life or takes the place of God in my life will lead to my being malformed or diseased. God made me with a desire for connections with other people. I turn that gift into something harmful when I seek the company of people who damage my life, or when I’m willing to give up healthy things to have unhealthy people in my life.

In response to pain and loss, we humans often cope by chasing after something that looks shiny. I might drink to excess or use drugs because I feel better when I do. Or maybe I drink or use because when I do, I feel nothing at all. The truth is the only thing will make a turtle with a gut full of metal feel better is removing the intruding cause of the problems and dealing with the toxins those problems have brought into its life. In the same way I won’t be healthier until the poison I’ve allowed to remain on the inside is acknowledged and recognized for what it is. The longer I wait, the more the potential for damage increases.

Change occurs only when my issue is admitted and treatment begins. The doctors who sought to help Piggy Bank started with a diagnosis, helped along by some tests which allowed them to “see” inside the massive turtle. Treatment might mean surgery, as with Piggy Bank and her story, but more likely change happens for most of us when we talk things out in the company of other people. Peers, spiritual leaders and counselors are good places to start. “We’re only as sick as our secrets” is a basic tenant of the Twelve Step programs.  Saying even the worst things out loud to someone else we trust can mark the beginning of the process of healing.

It makes me sad to think of what Omsin lost. I’ve read that sea turtles live on average fifty years or more.  Piggy Bank lost half her life; she might have lived twice as long if she hadn’t chased after shiny objects. And not only was her lifespan cut short, but she lived in pain and could not reach her potential due to her ailments. So she lived a shorter life than she might have, and with a lower quality of life than she could have had.

Does that description remind you of anyone you know? Perhaps you yourself or someone you love or care about? How is your quality of life and your quantity of life being affected by your insistence on chasing after shiny things?

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