I found the young opossum tucked down in a brown paper bag full of light bulbs, inside a storage closet off my kitchen. He was huddled within an empty side of a 2-pack of 40-watt blubs. All nose and ears and big black eyes and tiny toe-tips peeking over the edge of the thin cardboard pack.
There was something rather appealing about the little guy. He was so vulnerable. And sweet and naïve. It was like he thought maybe I wouldn’t notice him if he sat very, very still. Or that he had found a sort of comfort in the shape of that softly rounded light bulb that was nestled in the pack next to him. And perhaps he was just resting in the best place he could find to simulate home and family. Especially after a probably very long and confusing journey – from mossy dirt ground and tree limbs and a thick covering of leaves – now into this terribly foreign place, among all strange things and unknown creatures.
I said, “Well, hello!” to him in that kind of soft voice we all seem to instinctively use with babies and smallness. Not knowing exactly how to respond to me, he simply opened his little mouth very wide and showed me his teeth. They were so tiny – set all in pink. So I told him they were quite nice. And then I carried him outside, sack and all, to the side yard, and gently pulled all the cardboard packets out onto the ground. He sort of scooted himself loose from the one he was in – rather like Winnie the Pooh backing out of a honey tree – and scampered away into the foliage.
Later that same night, his pal turned up – in the same closet, but less tucked in or concealed. So I was able to bundle him up in a soft towel and carry him out to the same place near the foliage for release. We chatted a bit first. And I stroked the softness behind his ears. And he considered staying for more. So I pushed him on his little bum and he waddled on in the same direction as the first fellow.
The next day, there was a third visitor. And the next, a fourth. And it played with my mind that perhaps the same few creatures were just circling the house and coming in one at a time for a snack and a visit, over and over again.
I believe that nature speaks to us, and that birds and animals in particular cross our paths when we are meant to learn some truth from them – a lesson for our hearts, some enlightenment for our spirits. Perhaps the opossums were traipsing through my closet for a reason. I needed to pay attention.
In Native American cultures, opossums have a long history, a story going back to the very creation of the earth, and several legends explain why they have no fur on their tails (such as having it burned off while bringing fire to man). Even their name comes from the Powhatan tribe of Virginia (it means small white dog).
I also know that opossums provide a great service to humans and other creatures by controlling certain pesky populations that can cause us injury and sickness and harm in any number of ways.
Within the realm of symbolism and example, however, opossums represent creative problem-solving and creating unique personal images – as well as the ability to see through false images of others.
I was particularly intrigued to learn that their reputation for playing dead (i.e., “playing opossum”) is no mere act. They actually faint when sufficiently startled or frightened in a confrontational situation. Rather than bite and fight … and if running away just won’t do … they literally keel over in a dead faint. A unique yet highly effective method of peacekeeping, it seems to me.
And so, over the next few days, I attempted to get in touch with my “inner opossum.” Eventually, I found I had assembled a rather interesting collection of opossum truth. To begin with, our appearance is just our personal history made visible … and sometimes it gets scorched and wrinkled and worn bare along the way, as it trails along behind us. Not everything posed before us in the world is real … hissing and growling and baring of teeth may be nothing more than posturing and pretence. When lost, its okay to tuck down and hide for a while … as long as we stay curious, especially in strange places (both physical and emotional). Sometimes the most unlikely sources of kindness are the ones that set us free. Always be helpful … even if it means doing the hard stuff that no one else wants to do; not everyone will appreciate it, but some will. And when something scares us, our best strategy might be to just stop and make ourselves vulnerable to it.
In the end, perhaps I didn’t just discover a band of random opossums in my closet. Perhaps I found small gifts of wisdom, in brown paper sacks.