The little turtle felt like he had been walking for months. His feet (all four of them) hurt, and it seemed like days since he had tasted a cool lettuce leaf, or piece of apple. He wished with all his heart that his legs were longer, and not so fat and stumpy.
He was just starting to think of how much happier he would have been if he had been born a taller, slimmer turtle, when he heard a rumble, and looking up, he saw a cloud of dust not far away. He stopped, glad for the rest, and waited for the big dust cloud to arrive.
It soon reached him, and he realized it was a herd of horses and camels. The horses saw him, and being curious, the group of them stopped and surrounded him. They sniffed at his hard shell, and bumped noses with him in greeting. The camels nodded, and stood guard.
"Hello, small stranger!" the horses neighed. "Are you travelling to the stable?"
"Yes", sighed the turtle. "But my feet are very sore, and I am taking such a long time, because I am short and fat and dumpy, not tall and beautiful like you. In fact", he said, suddenly feeling very small and ugly in the face of such beautiful creatures, "I am afraid I will miss everything, and maybe that's a good thing, because a short dumpy turtle like me isn't going to look very attractive at such a special time, am I? They probably won't even let me in".
The horses looked very surprised, and stared at him. Then they turned their heads towards the shortest, plainest horse, and waited respectfully for her to speak.
"In a world where Humans often judge each other solely by their looks", she said gently, "It is easy to get the idea that beautiful creatures are the only ones that matter. It is very much to the contrary - what an animal looks like is the least important thing. Do you think I can be less of a leader of this herd because I am short or plain? Does the sheen of my coat matter? Or does my ability to solve problems, like where we will sleep for the night, or where we will get water?" She eyed the turtle with a smile. "Well?"
The turtle scuffed his forefoot. "Well..." he said, and stopped, ashamed of what he had been thinking.
"Each of us has a part to play", the mare said. "Each of us has a skill that you cannot judge simply by looking at us, and it is that skill we value, not what we look like. Look at the camels - do they look less beautiful than the pretty horses to you? You should not judge them by Human standards of looks, for without them, we would never have made it this far. They have guided us across the desert, and they guard us against predators while we sleep; their big feet may look silly and ugly to some, but they can kick very hard. They are tireless and strong, and that is what matters to us".
"I think..." said the turtle, but the horse silenced him with a look.
"It may sound like a Human cliche to say 'everyone is special in their own way' (and believe me, when you're around Humans enough, you hear them all), but everyone is. Each of us is born with skills that contribute to the well-being of all of us. Some are good at finding water, some can think about what do do next, some are good at directions, and some have good memories to remember which plants are good to eat. Without any of them, we would not be as far along this road, and it is these things inside us that the Creator values, not our appearance".
"But what about me?" the turtle asked. "What could I possibly be useful for? I am not good at anything", he said sadly.
The mare looked at him. "How long has it taken you to get this far?" she asked.
The turtle sighed. "It seems like months!"
"And why have you not given up, since it has taken so long?"
"Because..." he thought. "Because..."
"Because your heart beats strong and faithful within you", the mare said. "I sensed it in you when we met. There is no creature more precious to the Creator than the one who continues to be true in the face of great difficulty. It is the patient ones among us that give us the strength to keep going, when it seems so much easier to give up. Without their steady example, many of us would never know success".
The turtle did not speak, because the feeling of happiness in his chest overwhelmed him. He sat deep in thought. "Little turtle", said the mare, "I can give you a ride the rest of the way, if you wish. You are small and light, and would be no burden".
"No thank you", said the turtle, "I have a lot of thinking to do before I arrive at the stable, and I think I shall do my best thinking as I walk by myself".
The mare smiled. "Farewell, little turtle, and may your journeys always bring you to the harbour you seek". With that, she neighed, and the horses wheeled, the camels snorted, and they were gone.
And the turtle, refreshed, continued his journey.
"If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you."
-The Gospel of Thomas