That face haunts me still. The absolute terror in its little black eyes. Tiny teeth bared in a screaming hiss that I never heard over the music blaring through my car speakers. Years later, I still feel sick and shaken from this memory.
Some car ahead of me in the night must have hit the possum first. My headlights revealed a sight all too common in the deep south, and seeing no need to slow down, I manuevered the wheels of my little Honda to straddle the lump of gray fur in the road. As I came within a few yards, though, the front of its broken body reared to face me, its little arms waving frantically in the glaring light. Time bent and slowed, every nanosecond stretched into minutes. I could feel its horror and desperation as if they were my own. I saw the unnatural stillness of the creature’s hind legs and shared in its helplessness as I struggled to find the brake. My own cry of panic did not spare me from the loud thwump of my front bumper hitting the possum squarely in the face.
Too late, my foot found the brake. I stopped in the middle of the road and looked back in my mirror. The little pile of fur lay still, only belly up now and few feet farther along the roadway. Cursing my confused and slow response time, I began to drive slowly forward and struggled to breathe and calm my racing heart.
Of course, it would have died anyway. I know this. My car might well have been a mercy to it, saving it from agonizing hours of suffering. And animal lover that I am, I really don’t care so much for possums. They tend to hiss and fight too easily, and they had proven to be a great nuisance to some of our pets over the years. Plus, they stink. Terribly. You can tell a possum has been on the porch during the night just by the lingering odor at dawn. I kept telling myself, “It was just a possum.”
Why, then, could I not stop the tears? What did this smelly, oversized rodent really matter in the greater scheme of things anyway? What was the actual value of this single possum’s life?
These questions led to more questions. What is the worth of any one life? What makes a life well-lived according to eternal standards? Had this little animal fulfilled its purpose? Had it learned what a possum needs to learn, which cannot be that much, relatively speaking? Did it have friends and family? Had it raised a litter or two of offspring? Was it content as much as a possum can be content?
Go ahead and laugh. Roll your eyes. I get that. Really. I laugh at myself!
But I believe each of us – mankind, animals, every kind of life – was created with certain purpose, for things that we are meant to do, to learn, to give, to create. If this possum had lived a full and fruitful life, according to heavenly expectations for possums, could this smelly little life have a greater value than we might suspect?
It was just a possum.
And I am just a girl surprised to find herself in a middle-aged body with too many dreams wrapped up in fear, with too many regrets for roads not taken, with too many parts of my true self tucked away.