About halfway through my run this morning, in the darkness of my neighborhood, I came across a baby gopher tortoise lying upside down in the road. It was the smallest gopher tortoise I have ever seen and its little legs were moving but its body wasn’t going anywhere.

The road the tortoise was stuck on leads to the neighborhood elementary school. And in about an hour, cars, driven by mothers and fathers texting and talking on their cell phones instead of talking to their kids on the way to school, were going to start whizzing by. The little guy would have no chance, his hard shell no match for the abundance of SUVs and minivans that populate my town.

So, of course, I had to stop running and help it. Especially since the gopher tortoise is a threatened species. (I was really pissed that I didn’t have my camera because my kids would have loved to see it. And then I would have had a really cool photo for this post.) I picked it up and gently placed it back in to the preserve area that it must have come from, feeling smug about doing my good deed for the day before 7 a.m.

I spent the next part of my run thinking about the baby gopher tortoise and hoping that some hawk doesn’t end up picking it up from its habitat of saw palmettos and pine trees. And I also spent a few minutes wondering about the familial traits of gopher tortoises. Was somebody missing him, their baby? Was he on his first solo mission out of the burrow? Did he get in a fight with his sister and was trying to have some alone time?

And, because I run at a really slow pace, I also thought about this: I’ve felt like that gopher tortoise before. Like I’ve fallen off the curb, legs figuratively (and maybe once or twice literally) up in the air flailing around, unable to right myself. And then along came someone, a friend, a family member or quite frequently these days, my husband, and helped me get set straight. Gently. Depositing me back in my habitat.

And while I was thinking that, about how lucky I am to have that kind of support, I felt a kind of sadness wash over me. Sadness because I’ve known too many people who have recently suffered losses. People my age losing their spouses. Kids, the ages of my kids, losing a parent.

And I hope those people will, at least one day, feel like me and my gopher tortoise. That they have friends and family around them that will pick them up when they’ve fallen off the curb. And gently put them right side up so that they can make their way back to where they belong, to the warmth and comfort of their burrows.

I was glad that it started to drizzle towards the end of my run. I was embarrassed by my tears. But feeling fortunate about my life and thinking that I needed to help more than just gopher tortoises.

Image via USFWS Headquarters/Flickr