An Emotional Possum

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In the year 1575, a European artist, who had never seen one, engraved a picture of a possum. I’ve had this picture on my computer for years and I’ve forgotten where it came from–Marsh Library, Dublin, I guess.


Intriguing  picture but that is not what a possum looks like.

I ought to know because I am one.

This picture came to my mind yesterday while I talked with Michael Swanhart, the counselor who is helping me solve a problem.

You see, I want to write. Since I was a Boy Scout I’ve wanted to write and tell stories. I tried to write a vampire novel when I was just 12 years old. Got no where. This week while searching for something else in my files, I came across some stories I wrote long-hand on notebook paper back in the ‘60s. I’m still at it. I still want to write and tell stories.

But I can’t.

I face this obstacle.

Its name is John Cowart.

Yes, I hinder myself from doing what I deeply yearn to do.

Something inside me squelches my heart’s desire.

Vicious bastard, my enemy is.

He knows all the buttons to push to nuke me whenever I get excited about writing.

I’ve tried to beat him on my own and he is too strong for me. He’s studied my weaknesses all his life and for my every move, he knows the counter move. Sucker is the Jackie Chan of mental gymnastics. The Chuck Norris of smashing dreams. The Bruce Willis of putdowns.

I can’t beat him.

As I prayed about my problem I decided to ask Mr. Swanhart for help.

That’s where my emotional possum comes in.

Here’s an aside: once in Maryland as I hiked along Highway 450 near Annapolis, I found a dead possum beside the road. Car squashed its head.

Yet, its belly moved.

I had studied possums in high school biology class; I knew what was going on.

Possums are North America’s only marsupials—i.e. the mother carries babies in a pouch, like a kangaroo. Unlike a kangaroo which only has one or two joeys at a time, a mother possum can birth up to 13 kits. She has 13 nipples inside her pouch.

So, when I looked in the pouch of that dead mother possum, I saw six or eight babies squirming for life. I tired to lift one out but apparently when the baby latches on, the end of the mother’s nipple swells sealing the kit in the pouch so the mother can swing through the trees without dropping baby possums on the forest floor.

Those kits inside the dead mother were doomed.

I looked for a brick or something to smash them.

Couldn’t find a thing to do the job.

I could have stomped on the dead possum to kill the babies inside.

No. No I couldn’t.

My compassion has limits.

I draw the line at stomping dead possums in the road.

Eventually I walked on leaving the little ones to their inexorable fate.

Now, back to yesterday’s talk with Mike.

The Licensed Clinical Social Worker showed me how that when a creature confronts a perceived threat, we fight or flee or freeze.

He asked how I respond to crisis.

“Withdrawal”, I said immediately.

I hunker down, draw into my shell like a turtle and lay low till the danger passes.

Possums do that too. When threatened, they curl up into a ball and pretend to be dead meat—hence the term “Playing Possum”.

They stay curled until the danger goes away…

Except, opossums have 50 teeth, more teeth  than any other North American mammal. When playing dead doesn’t work…

They fight as a last resort. They flee when given the opportunity. They freeze as their first line of defense.

Must work.

According to the fossil record, possums have existed virtually unchanged since the Pliocene Era  or whenever.

So, we fight, flee or freeze according to the triggering circumstance.

I find myself afraid to do what I want to do; therefore, I freeze.

It interests me to think that Scripture mentions all three responses:

Flee—Paul told Timothy, “The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things;

Fight—in the very next verse, Paul said, “Fight the good fight of faith”.

Freeze—Moses told the people, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.

So, where is Jesus in my life as I confront the main obstacle holding me back?

Psalm 37 comes to mind: Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the LORD: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.

So, have I ever fled?

Yes, in a hostile environment, like say a church social, I’ll say to Ginny, “Let’s get the hell out of here”!

Have I ever fought?

Yes. Over the years in my testimony for Jesus, I’ve been threatened with guns and knives. I’ve been spit on and had rocks, bottles and garbage cans thrown at me. Yet, I stood my ground because I believe Jesus Christ is worth a little inconvenience.

Have I ever froze?

Yes. I am an emotional possum. Freezing is my defense mode of choice.

As we dressed one morning, Ginny noticed that I’d put on my Incredible Hulk tee-shirt.

She said, “Are you going to be the Incredible Hulk today?”

“No,” I said. “I wish I was. When I get hurt or angry I don’t turn green, grow huge biceps and smash things; I just get quite and withdraw into my shell.”

“I’ve noticed that,” she said. “When you get upset, you turn into — the Incredible Sulk!”

• Please, visit my website for more and feel free to look over and buy one of my books, posted by John Cowart. Or contact John at johnwcowart (at) gmail (dot) com.

1 Comment

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Leslie
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 10:28:10

    Much wisdom! I really hope you continue to write. You have much to share.

    Sometimes, when life gets really hard, I think I’m a headless chicken. I want to do SOMEthing but I don’t know what to do, so all this emotion has nowhere to go.

    The rest of the time I’m a turtle, snug in my shell, watching the world and afraid to stick my neck out.

    Today I need to be a chameleon–mom, wife, athlete (hah), writer, photographer, master gardener, friend, and child of God.