A small raccoon climbed atop the neighbors’ garbage cans and was trying to pry them open. I walked over to shoo it away and saw that its head was trapped inside a plastic jar. It was going to slowly die of starvation or dehydration.
I’m not fond of raccoons. They can be aggressive and carry rabies. But this little one needed help. I reached toward it and tried to grab the jar so it could pull its head free. Instead, the raccoon freaked out, scurried away and hid under the neighbors’ ramp.
A few years ago, my daughter gave me personalized cat wrangling gloves after I was bitten twice by a three-legged cat; I went and got those to protect my hands. Also, I grabbed a flashlight and a blanket. When the raccoon emerged, I would throw the blanket over it, then grab the jar with a gloved hand and hold on until it wriggled its head free.
My ingenious plan worked like most of my ingenious plans — which is to say, not at all.
The raccoon hid for more than half an hour. I started to feel ridiculous. I was tired. The mosquitoes were biting me. Forget about rabies — I’m going to get West Nile. I just wanted to go to bed.
Maybe a little prayer would help? After all, the creator of life would support this rescue mission, right?
So I said: Uh, as you can see, I could use a little help right here. How about if you coax the raccoon out so I can free it? And soon, please. I’m getting bit by these mosquitoes of yours. Thank you very much.
A response popped into my head: Yeah, nice going! I’m proud of you for trying to help the raccoon. One problem: That whole free will thing? It applies to raccoons, too. I can’t force it to come out. You’re just going to have to be patient and hang in there. I’m with you, though!
I hate that answer. I get it a lot.
It was well past midnight when the raccoon finally emerged and took off for the backyard. I threw the blanket and missed. I chased after it with the flashlight, hoping the cops wouldn’t show up.
Why am I running through my neighbors’ yards after midnight, officer? I’m helping a raccoon. No, I can’t show you the raccoon. Yeah, you’re right, this all sounds a bit weird. I get one phone call, right?
It didn’t matter. I couldn’t find the raccoon. It had probably run off and was going to die horribly despite my best efforts. Isn’t life like that so often? We try to do something good but come up empty? We wonder if it was worth the effort?
Wait! There it is!
The raccoon had jumped on top of other neighbors’ garbage cans (they just love garbage cans, apparently) and was sitting there, its head still stuck inside the jar. I walked slowly toward it and tossed the blanket again, and missed again.
But this time, the critter fell behind the garbage can and was trapped. I reached down, grabbed the jar and pulled — it didn’t budge! The raccoon yanked its head away from my hand.
One more time.
I put my gloved right hand on the raccoon’s back and pushed down so that it couldn’t squirm. I grabbed the jar with my left hand, tilted the animal’s head back, and gave a strong pull.
Pop! It was free!
Free to run away. Free to eat again. Free to live. Free to bite me and give me rabies.
I pulled back. The young raccoon looked at me for a few seconds, kind of dazed. Then it ran into the safety of the darkness.
As I held the jar (that’s it in the photo above), I felt … Tired. Relieved. Happy that all the waiting wasn’t for nothing. Sure, I knew that the little raccoon might run out into the street and get killed later that same night. Or get into the neighbors’ garbage, get its head stuck in another jar and starve anyway.
But this was a momentary victory.
Don’t you love those momentary victories?
Your latest cancer scan comes back negative. You make it another hour without a cigarette or a drink. Your kid finally manages to put their dirty laundry in the basket — without an argument, no less. Your parent takes a bite of food after being sick for several days. You manage to pull the jar off a reluctant raccoon’s head.
Momentary victories. Life is full of them. Life is about them.