My Wednesday evening ended with me standing on the side of the road next to a gung fu master, him with a bamboo staff and I with a camp shovel, as we tried to decide whether an injured member of the wild kingdom sitting in the middle of a pool of blood should live or die.
After some debate, we decided that since its bloody jaw worked (sort of), and all its organs were still inside, it should be given a chance to live. We herded it into the brush a few feet off the road and down a slope, and left it there with a small bowl of fresh water.
I hope it lives, because if it dies I that means I made the wrong choice. If it dies, I failed to decrease its suffering because I was afraid of making the most irrevocable choice. I've never killed anything bigger than a fish or a bug before, and was not looking forward to beating a large possum to death with a collapsible shovel. But if there is no heaven or hell, no supernatural consequence to our actions, it actually seems very important that I not let it suffer unnecessarily. There is no greater spiritual peace for it, there is only living and not-living, and leaving it to die in suffering and pain rather than quickly changing it into a not-living thing seems barbaric. I hope it lives, because if it suffers and then dies anyway, its pain from now until its end is because of my action (or rather, my inaction). It seems strange that my decision tonight to not violently end a life might actually be an act of cruelty. I really hope it lives.
The gung fu master's name was Kevin, and it's his birthday tomorrow. He seemed to struggle with trying to figure out what finding this maimed animal on the eve of his birthday was supposed to mean in the greater scheme of things. I tried to explain to him that if it had any meaning at all, it was that he stopped to help when everyone else didn't. He stopped to help an animal we consider vermin, because stopping to help it was the compassionate thing to do. More importantly, he did the compassionate thing even though no one was watching and there was no reward for doing it, nor punishment for not doing so. I told him that showing compassion and kindness when no one's watching is in my mind a pretty good indication of being a good person, and that in this midnight test of character, he passed. That seems like a pretty good way to start a birthday, and after telling him that, I wished him "happy birthday" and headed home.
I don't think this story has a greater meaning or lesson. Does it? It was just a thing that happened that will likely never happen to me again, and for that reason I thought it was worth the time to write it down. I hope that the possum lives and its suffering diminishes, and I hope that Kevin has a happy birthday with the clear knowledge that when no one was watching and there was no need to do so, he was a good and compassionate person.