"Responsibility grants you with the authority to dictate the direction of your life." — Jonas Cain
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Did she get that name because she was so small when they found her that she could fit into a pocket? Or was it because when they found her she was in a pocket?
I forgot to ask when I had the chance.
It was still a learning experience, though. Did you know they’re not actually possums? Possums don’t live in North America. Closely related to the kangaroo, possums are primarily found in places like Australia. What I’ve been referring to as possums all my life are actually opossums.
And suddenly the world is not what I thought it was! I’m not the only one though. In America, it’s common for opossums to be colloquially called possums—even though they are two different animals.
It can be confusing to understand what people are talking about when we can’t even agree on definitive words—just like how people from the United States are often colloquially called American, even though this reference neglects to account for the hundreds of millions of people living in South America. I didn’t become aware of this concern until my trip to Peru, where the locals voiced their displeasure of the naive slight. This careless use of language can be at best confusing and at worst exclusionary. Perhaps the responsible thing to do is to be more thoughtful with our words.
But Pockets doesn’t care about any of that. She’s just an opossum living her best life.
Whenever I travel for work, I always opt for the most affordable option. It’s the responsible choice. If the back of the plane is going to the same city as the front of the plane, why pay more? And if a bed is available at a lower rate, why cut into the profits? After all, I don’t travel to sleep—I travel to explore, learn, and share.
This fiscally responsible philosophy is what led to a few nights on Poppy, a sailboat docked at a Marina in Key West. It was the most affordable option when I was contracted to facilitate a Hashtag Positivity keynote address and workshop at the local college.
The day before the event, I went for a walk along the docks to clear my mind and soak in the surroundings—and that’s when I had the chance encounter with the sailing opossum.
Seeing someone at a marina carrying an opossum in their arms is a striking sight.
“Who carries a possum?!” I wondered—still in the dark about the fact that they are actually called opossums. “And since when do possums hang out at a marina!?”
I was filled with questions, but all I could do was gaze in disbelief.
The next day, during a break in the presentations, I recounted the tale of the sailing possum to some folks in the workshop—and to my wondrous surprise, I discovered that this same opossum was the pet of a woman in attendance!
Such a fascinating turn of events!
I was filled with questions, and Naomi was happy to share the tale of the curious creature:
“Being analytical, it does not make sense to have pets,” she told me. “To appease my INTJ strengths, I must consider the time, cost, and responsibility before accepting.”
Naomi was referring to her introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging personality traits as measured by Myers–Briggs personality indicator. Despite her calculated nature, this doesn’t exclude the possibility of having pets. After all, she has Django, a South African Mastiff—a breed that can grow as large as 170 pounds! But bringing Django into the family was a responsible move.
“He is worth his keep,” she told me. “He guards me when walking—especially at night. He also guards our boat when we’re not home, and he is trained to be weight bearing.”
This last point is surely what made Django especially useful around the sailboat. When her husband was involved in a motorcycle accident, Django was able to assist with the recuperation process, many times being called to get him up and off the ground.
“This opossum was not so easy to justify, though,” she said.
It all started when a family member discovered a dead opossum on the side of the road—but when the opossum died, she wasn’t alone. She was carrying a baby inside her pouch. And the baby was still alive!
“Even with care, she was so small that it was unlikely she would survive,” Naomi said. “Especially not on her own in the wild. Being released at that point, she would have just become food.”
When asked if she would be willing to take care of the baby opossum, without hesitation Naomi said no!
“My time was already being spent cleaning up after the drool and shedding hair from Django and his two meals a day I make from scratch,” she reasoned. “The opossum would have to be tube-fed, which would require a lot of handling and patience.”
But this did not deter her husband from saying yes to the responsibility right away, and they settled on the name her Pockets.
To calm the anxiety surrounding her husband’s rash decision, Naomi began researching opossums, learning everything she could about them—and the more she learned, the more her mind was put at ease that they could responsibly care for this life in need.
A selling point was that they only live for at most three years—so if it turned out to be too much trouble, there was at least an end in sight.
But perhaps the biggest selling point of all was how small and adorable Pockets was. When they first got her, Pockets was so small she could fit into Naomi’s Buff and no one even knew she was there!
What’s more, when Pockets came into their life, the pandemic was in full swing. With the ensuing isolation and remote work, it gave her and her husband plenty of time to take care of the baby opossum’s rather demanding needs.
“She was easy to potty train,” Naomi told me. “She will bite you if you do not take her out when she has tried to let you know—so maybe we are the ones who have been trained?”
Despite her initial reservations, Naomi is thrilled to have Pockets in her life, and she now takes on the added responsibility of educating others about some common misconceptions, helping Pockets to become an opossum “ambassador” of sorts.
She says that many people who meet Pockets make comments like ‘Where I come from, we kill those,’ or ‘Looks like stew.’
“As humans, we tend to kill things when we are afraid of them,” Naomi told me. But with education, we can learn to understand—and when we understand, we know there is nothing to fear.
For example, did you know that opossums are unlikely to get rabies? It’s true! It’s because their blood is at a lower temperature. Another fun fact: opossums are impervious to snake and scorpion venom. In addition, they help keep the population of ticks and other pests down, and because of their need for a high-calcium diet, they often eat carrions.
We will never be held responsible for what we are not capable of handling—or at the very least capable of learning. As such, responsibility doesn’t preclude risk; rather, it calls us to understand our strengths, know what’s negotiable, and then boldly step forward to learn and grow, come what may—whether through experiences like those with our financial decisions, language choices, or who we welcome into our families.
As humans, we are often prepared to kill what we are afraid of—and Pockets reminds us that we tend to be afraid of what we don’t understand. If this is true, then perhaps the responsible choice is to seek understanding, and in so doing discover there is truly nothing to fear.
After all, we don’t travel through this life to remain in the dark, but rather to explore, learn, and share.
What are you responsible for?
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.