The Virginia opossum is my animal guide. Yes, the possum. I know other people have stags, horses, and wolves, large impressive and imposing animals. Well I’m not impressive or imposing and I take strength from knowing there is an animal out there who is like me: quiet, avoidant, and underestimated.
Here are some lessons I have learned from the possum:
- Come out at night or when you feel safe. I don’t have to leave my house at rush hour or shop at the busiest time of the day. I can go at 6 am if I like. I set my own schedule and do not have to live according to the times that are most popular.
- Eat ticks. Yes, ticks. My experiences living with pain have taught me to deal with far worse things than ticks. Heck, I can take on any number of icky things and make them work for me. Favorite TV show cancelled? I’ve been through far worse. Dentist’s visit? Bring it on! I can eat ticks with the best of them.
- Play dead. Oh, I am so good at this one. When a possum is frightened it stiffens and falls over, so predators won’t bother it anymore. Pain gets high – I’m on the couch or in bed not moving. And that’s ok. I can do that until the predator, or the worst of the pain has passed.
- Scream if you want to. It’s a great way to get out both annoyance and aggression. And when it’s done, I feel a little bit better.
- Be resistant to rabies. Okay, I am not actually resistant to rabies. But I am resistant to a lot of stuff. When I got my tattoo, it didn’t hurt. I was used to much more pain. Massive bruises down my leg, I don’t even feel them. Having a baseline of pain is a shield. Most additional experiences cannot top it, so they are subsumed inside my pain and I can’t feel worse.
- Eat trash. Perhaps not every day, but sometimes Cheetos or ice cream are necessary.
A possum may not be your guide. How about an armadillo with tough armor and a soft underbelly? A starling, running around with its group of friends and family? An eel able to slip and slide through all difficulties? We are, perhaps, the strange and ugly animals in the world. But these animals can teach us to know ourselves better and use what we have.