In my home country these small furry marsupials are considered damn nuisances, but to Australians, the term possum is one of endearment, as Dame Edna Everidge has shown the world. In modern times the opossum can often be seen travelling along power lines from one source of food to another. I once lay in bed in the early morning looking out my window at the pre-dawn sky, sadly scored over by dark lines of cables and electric powerlines, and found them suddenly to be a source of courtly liveliness as lines of possums passed from east to west, and west to east. As they came nose to nose one would drop and hang as the other stepped carefully over those clinging feet. The hangee would then swing up and continue on his way until the next encounter. I couldn’t work out the protocol but the possums clearly knew: “I give way to her, and she to me, and I to he.” Debrett’s in possumese. Sadly, I haven’t seen this pre-dawn procession since.
But possums are a part of my garden. Sometimes they eat the parsley to the ground. One friend grows nettles around the parsley, as the nettles sting sensitive noses. I’ve found growing onions in the same patch seems to work. Perhaps the allium smell disguises the deliciousness of the parsley. They have loved my pumpkin pie fruit tree to death, returning to strip its leaves for two years, after which it gave up, and I gave up my eager awaitment for that exotic fruit. I also compete with them (and the fruit bats) for the avocados, mangoes and pawpaw. But despite the fact they can be “damn nuisances” I still like having them around.
I have an old nearly falling through car port, covered with shiny dark leaved star jasmine. The abandoned bird’s nest deep in the recesses of that decade’s old vine is often the home of passing possums, sleeping through the day. Sometimes during sunset chanting sessions (I like to have friends around to share my meditation with) a little furry body makes its way along the vines towards the window, seeming to peep in before hurrying up and over the roof, to whatever activities are on schedule that night. In home, I like to think – they enjoy the gentle wakeup of melodious mantras.
And on my back porch another birds’ home, purchased for, but never used by birds, gets annually taken over by adolescent possums, separated from Mum, and needing a secure dry spot. Eventually each tenant grows too large for the house and moves on, sometimes after a little hand feeding of bananas and grapes from myself in adoring attendance. One time, the day before a torrential summer storm, a mother with a baby on her back somehow managed to squeeze them both inside. The storm gone, she disappeared never to be seen again.
So, you can understand something of my state of mind.
The night was dark but in the amber glow of street lights I saw a small shape scurrying, too late. My front wheels didn’t hit, so perhaps he’ll pass right under, but no, a thud. I slow and pull over. My friend says, there’s nothing you can do, drive on. We are in an 80 kilometre per hour section of road with a long tail of speeding cars… But still… She reaches to put on the hazard lights. The trail of cars go by. I can chant to it, I say, and checking the road, I jump out and ran back.
The possum lies on its side, eyes wide. I am chanting to the tune of Brahm’s lullaby. I am chanting that great prayer for release from the clutches of material nature, the maha mantra, that lullaby, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare, Hare” The possum’s legs are twitching. I don’t know if it’s alive or dead. Another bevvy of cars come speeding towards me. I step back on the footpath. They see me and my car with hazard lights blinking and move to the right. By the time I am back to the possum the twitching has stopped. He has definitely gone. For some reason there’s a sheet lying on the footpath. I take it and pull the body from the road.
Three people arrive on the scene. One woman handles the body, points out big balls. It is male, there will be no babies. No need to take them to a vet. We agree there is nothing further to be done. Let the dogs eat it.
Lying in bed I consider the fact that I stopped my chanting when these others arrived, and that I didn’t take the opportunity, the perfect moment, to underline the invaluable truth that the soul, the atma, the self, must leave the body at some time, and that the transcendental sound vibration of authentic Names of God, whatever tradition one is in, can carry that soul into the spiritual realm. It is not always possible to say so much, but I said nothing, and I feel sad at my lack of courage and concern.
So now I try and pass on some of this real understanding. The soul, the atma, is the same, whether in a possum body, the body of a dog, an ant, a tree or a human being. And the wonderful truth is that the chanting of such surcharged sounds can cleanse the heart of all who hear it, whatever their body. The wonderful truth is, that it is possible, depending on the desire and consciousness of that atma, that hearing just once the loving Names of God, as she leaves her body, she may indeed, once and for all, be released from the clutches of material nature, never again to be born into this world of violence, pain and death.
That truth about all of us is so wonderful I am tempted to stop here, but there is yet another comforting truth. It begins with an apparently less soothing reality, that is the reality that whatever pains I cause in my attempts to be the Lord of My Own Universe, (an impossibility, but one that all conditioned souls attempt), must and do come back on my own head. This is the law that “for all actions there is an opposite and equal reaction”, played out on the subtle level. So must I then die under the wheel of a car, a truck or a bus? That depends… That depends on why I was travelling.
Was I travelling as an attempted Lord of My Own Universe, or was I travelling in the service of the real Lord of the Universe? I was, in fact, returning from a gathering similar like this designed to bring all involved deeper into connection with that Supreme Lord. On the ultimate level the question remains, was my reason for being there a genuine desire to know the Truth and to align myself with It? Or was it so I could consider myself spiritual, and impress others that I am some great soul? Or was it for some other hidden insincere motive? And that my friends, is between me and Him! Indeed He knows my real motives better than I do. I do trust however, that whatever the outcome, He has my best interests at heart, and I am happy that whatever He wishes, will be so, for myself, and for my friend, the possum.
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