Possum

Out on the urban trail before sunup, no one else in sight. The sense of aloneness is to be treasured, for it is a special entrance into our aloneness with God. When you’re alone, you can cultivate the consciousness that God is always with you, neither in the world nor outside it, and closer than anything.
     And then ahead, under a street lamp, a shape. It scurried around; it stopped (was it only a shadow?)—and then I was close enough to see. Here, in the middle of the city, was a possum.
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     It is but one of many possums who live amongst us, in the shadows, prowling down there with their snout close to the ground. A friend was taking his dog for a walk in the yard behind his home, and there, under a tree, they found one. His dog leapt at the chance, and one could hear, I was told, the crunch of bone. A bad move all around: the dog got sick from it.
     Humans used to eat them widely. Recipes were made and passed around. But my morning possum was merely a fellow creature on the trail, my fellow creature, and for that morning the only one.
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     If you’ve never read it, look for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T. S. Eliot. These are light and humorous verses about cats; when Andrew Lloyd Webber discovered the book, the musical “Cats” was born. “Oh! Well I never! Was there ever A Cat so clever As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!” Eliot makes me almost like cats.
     It was Ezra Pound who called Eliot “Old Possum,” and when Eliot wrote these poems for children in his life, he signed them with that name. Eliot was a severely private man; the comparison with a possum which, when in danger, “plays dead,” suggests itself naturally.
     My possum clearly sensed no danger from me, but just as clearly wanted to remain alone. I wonder if, when God made the first possum and brought him to Adam to be named, if the possum just played dead? Or did he speak to Adam? Perhaps he said: “Don’t pick me, my good man; but have you considered a cat?”
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     Out & About. I am to preach at All Souls’ Church in Oklahoma City on Saturday, March 2, at 5:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 3, at 8 and 10 a.m.
     The next “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar is on Sunday, March 10, at Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, from 6 to 7:30 pm. Our text is James Joyce’s story “The Dead,” from his collection Dubliners. Anyone who reads it is welcome to the conversation.
     And a couple of weeks after that, on Sunday, March 24, I am to give the spring theology lecture at Incarnation at 6 o’clock: “What Good Is Suffering?”

 

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."