Ahh! A dangerous creature that will bite!! The teeth are so sharp, look at the evil in its eyes! And don’t forget the naked rat tail, yuck!
That’s what we thought when we got a good look at the object of our dogs’ barking one night in our yard. We shone a flashlight around and caught sight of this monstrous face hiding in the rosebushes. For thirty minutes my dad poked a broom at the opossum to try to get it to move into the temporary trap we had created. I held my phone up to light up the area, staying out of the way. My mom may or may not have been holding a gardening spade. We were all mentally prepared to defend ourselves if it attacked.
Except it didn’t. It shuffled this way and that, nudged by the broom, and opened its mouth threateningly, but that was about it. Eventually, we herded it into a little zipper tent (originally meant for the dogs), and it quietly sat there, occasionally showing its sharp teeth but not much else. I guess we didn’t secure the tent too well because it got away that night. Oh well, no harm done. We shrugged and didn’t regret it too much.
The truth was that this animal we encountered was so meek and gentle that we were puzzled – I was expecting a slavering beast intent on biting us, but this creature seemed actually…polite. “Oops, sorry for getting in your way. You want me to go here? Sorry, yes sir, I’m going, I’m going, if you want me to…My apologies, dear sirs, honored madams, I’ll just…move here, I guess? To be honest, I’d really prefer to not go in there…oh all right, if you insist.” It could have been a creature from Narnia, it had that much character. There was not a mean bone in its body, even though we were clearly disturbing its peace.
The opossum kept coming back, judging by the dogs’ incessant barking and also the fact that an entire bag of dog food had been ripped open. We had to be careful to close our storage container really well after that.
Then one morning we managed to capture the opossum under a crate. Throughout the day I watched the animal’s behavior carefully, and saw that while it did open its mouth to reveal its teeth, it made no move to attack or really defend itself, even when the dogs barked at it. Drool leaked from its open jaws, and its coarse gray fur exuded a deathly stink. I looked up more about opossums and discovered that these are the tools it intentionally uses to convince a predator that it is very sick and nasty to eat. Opossums rarely attack and would prefer to use defense mechanisms instead, often rolling over to play dead (apparently involuntarily…like falling into a coma).
We provided some food and water to our gentle prisoner, but at the end of the day, my dad ended up opening the crate and letting it free. The opossum apparently just looked up at him in polite disbelief, so my dad waved his hand at it, saying, “Go! Go!” Then it apologetically waddled out and disappeared into the evening. I never saw or heard from it again, which makes me a little worried and sad because I frequently see roadkill on the streets. I hope it’s living a good life.
The word that we kept using to describe this creature was “meek.” It made me think about how I respond when I feel like I’m in danger or armed forces are rising against me – I’m automatically ready to fight back, tooth and nail, ready to defend myself. But the opossum I met did not have a tendency to fight. There was not a hint of aggression in it at all. I am reminded of Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” That opossum actually had a pretty beautiful spirit…so whenever I see one now creeping through the shadows with that hunched, shuffling gait, I’m not disgusted like I used to be. Instead I can’t help but smile and think how cute it is! And any animal that eats cockroaches, snakes, rats, and ticks is a highly esteemed friend of mine.
Then again…yes, opossums can be unwanted guests sometimes, and I commend Sarah L. for her herculean courage in grabbing one with her bare hands. From under the sink. That’s a story we need to hear too…