On Wednesday night I enjoyed the North Carolina Theatre‘s impressive production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” which I’d seen before but happily attended again (tickets are still available through the weekend, theater fans!). The musical, which first opened in 1981, remains enduringly popular despite having little or no plot along with a couple of dance numbers that go on a bit long.

The lack of cohesion may be attributed to the musical being based on selected poems from T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” Eliot, who wrote the poems in the 1930s, used “Old Possum” as a self-ascribed nickname when writing to his grandchildren.

When I rolled my trashcan back from the street this morning and squeezed by the fig tree, I came eye level with a young possum, and discovered that birds aren’t the only burglars who have been eating my figs.

The opportunistic rascal had not only invaded the tree, but managed to get itself entangled in the net I’d put over it in an attempt to foil a pesky mockingbird.

At first I thought it was dead — there were signs of considerable thrashing. The critter had chewed through several small branches, and lay on its back with the stump of one of the branches still in its open mouth. After watching it for a few moments, however, a tiny flare of its nostrils showed that it was, well, “playing possum.” It was plenty alive, though clearly exhausted.

That put an unexpected crimp in my morning: I couldn’t just leave him there. The adventure of freeing the alien invader involved cutting the branch loose on either side of the tangle, then pruning another branch in the grip of its tail, then cutting away the net while avoiding a small but wicked-looking set of teeth.

As it turned out, the only thing really snarled was the beastie’s prehensile tail, which it refused to relax. With a bit of tugging and rearranging, I finally managed to pull it loose, leaving the young possum free to amble back into the woods, which it did without so much as a thank you or a goodbye.

I didn’t really expect to have a friend for life, like the mouse in the fable who freed a lion by gnawing through his ropes, but I’d be grateful if it would show the kindness of leaving my figs alone.

Whether people or possums or even cats, one never knows what opportunities for kindness a day will bring, or what form it will take  — but we’re here to help each other, I think, whether it’s convenient or not —  maybe even to the extent of sharing figs.

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