Sunday, July 30, 2006

Now Is No Time to Play Possum

(crossposted from Irregular Times)

This morning, as I let my dog roam back and forth on that wisp of grass and shrub that passes for a lawn in the Short North of Columbus, I heard her yelp and then watched a scruffy little mammal work its way through the underbrush, up to the base of a bush, and onto a little stub of a branch. A rat? A vole? A shrew? Nope, a possum. In the month I’ve been here, I’ve been amazed at the fauna that manages to keep a toehold here in pavement central.

Opossum playing possum in Columbus, Ohio, July 2006Once it made it up onto its perch, it looked around and locked eyes with me. Once we made eye contact, it didn’t move. I came closer and it froze. Even after I pulled out my camera and took a variety of snaps, some even with a smidgeon of flash, this possum held tightly to its position. Even as its breath quickened to a scary pace, it stayed stock still. Before I gave this possum a break and left it to move on, I was within two inches of it. I could have easily killed it. And still it clung to the branch, hoping wildly in its pretense.

I’ve heard it said that the possum will take this act to extremes, even rolling over and playing dead in the hope that a predator will get wigged out and just move on. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the stunning display of wishful thinking by this little furry mammal got me to thinking about similar displays of wishful thinking by larger, not so furry, mammals.

Here’s the score in the human world: The forces of intolerance and ignorance are on the attack. They’ve stunted medical research. They’ve censored scientific reports. they’ve put Jesus in the classroom and rubbed evolution out. They’ve sifted through your phone records. They know what you’re reading. Chances are, they’re watching you in some way right now. They’ve placed themselves above the law. They’ve placed themselves above investigation. they say the U.S. constitution is just a scrap of paper. They say your freedom is negotiable.

What does a person do in the face of this assault? It’s tempting to roll over, play dead, and hope the threat will just go away. It’s hard not to play possum. Even if we put our all into the defense of liberty, the forces of intolerance and ignorance might still prevail. But they will certainly prevail if we do nothing but hide our faces and pretend not to exist. As Mohandas Gandhi put it long ago, “Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.” Be the embodiment of hope. Take a public stand.

Just don’t play possum.

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