I was in a Zoom call with a friend of mine, Dan. I was in my basement at the time and I had just finished up class. We're spiritual accountability partners. He's a Catholic lawyer in the city. We pray and meet once a week, go over whatever topics we've been wrestling with. This week's topic was resentments.
"As Christians, I think resentment and anger are poisonous," he said. "It stops us from being good to others and to ourselves. I think we need to process them and give them to God as soon as we are able."
It was right then and there that I heard a loud thud!
"Hey, I need to go check something out," I said.
I looked outside and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then, I decided to walk up the stairs to the top floor - only to be greeted by four raccoons making direct eye contact with me in a pile of broken drywall. The look in their eyes was less fear and more confusion and concern.
Like they were saying, "Hey, I think we made a wrong turn somewhere."
I immediately closed my bedroom door and ran down the stairs.
I hopped back on my computer: "Hey, Dan. Some raccoons just fell through my ceiling. Could we reschedule?"
A few minutes later, I was on the phone with animal control.
"We don't do raccoons," someone said on the other end.
"Then what is it you do, my guy?" I asked.
In the meantime, I'm pacing frantically in my lawn in my pajamas at 5 in the evening. People passing by nervously waved at me. I flashed a smile.
I eventually found a private company that handled raccoons.
So, I let my church admin commission and other pastors know what was going on and then went inside the church. I drank hot tea and watched Youtube videos, as one does when nature invades.
The week was already rough. My car died in the middle of an intersection the weekend beforehand, and my professor had COVID which switched our class to all Zoom until the next week. The original plans of meeting together with my cohort in person were in jeopardy as I was also waiting for quarantine clearance.
To add extra irony to this, I never got COVID - but the raccoons gave me a head cold that made me test everyday to see if I was positive. I never was. This was just nature's middle finger.
When the private animal control person came, she was a 26 year old woman who came up to me and said: "I saw there was a mamma raccoon in the photos. She's gonna be PISSED."
"Yep," I said. "I guess so."
"I wrestle these things to the ground all the time. It'll be fine, I promise."
Three hours later, the mamma raccoon was not giving up. Since my house does not have any narrow hallways to trap live animals, the raccoons were clever in avoiding capture. The animal control woman, Marly, was yelling at them and frantically moving furniture.
"I AINT' GONNA HURT YA!" Marly yelled. "STOP FIGHTING."
I went onto my lawn and stared at the sky dejectedly. Was God teaching me a lesson about resentments? Was it possible to resent raccoons?
"Finally got them!" Marly yelled as she came outside. It was about 11 PM.
"Yay," I forced a smile.
The church handled matters very well - and they got me a motel room for three days as the mess was being sorted out.
It happened to be the same motel I reserved both during my hiring weekend for the church last year, as well as for a Greg Boyd class. Last year, around this time, I was in an in-between place of saying goodbye to rural Wisconsin and saying hello to Chicagoland. And, like last year, I had to Zoom into my community development class from the shaky wifi.
The next evening, I got a random text message: "Steve. Please move your car. I need to get home."
I thought about letting the text message go, but then I reflected on the insight Dan shared about not letting bitterness get the best of us. I replied back, "Hey, wrong number. :) "
About an hour later, I was texting with a wealthy Australian immigrant who works as a private investor. We talked until 1 AM just sharing our life stories. She's 100% hilarious, and also 100% not a scammer.
At least so far.
The day after that, I was supposed to go to a lecture by Willie Jennings. Jennings is a famous black Baptist theologian whose work had a deep impact on my own life. I looked in my bag and realize the clothes I had picked up were not... good.
So I woke up early, drove my friend's minivan to my house, and entered to be reminded of the exorcism that happened the night before. I looked around and realized how amazing it is that life can dramatically be altered and thrown into chaos at a moment's notice.
I found the clothes I wanted, threw them into my bag, and then remembered there was a book in my bedroom I wanted to pack.
I turned the corner from my kitchen and started up the stairs... only to be greeted by one final baby raccoon. It stared at me in the eyes, frightened. I quickly called up Marly again. She stumbled out of bed for this assignment and brought a plastic storage bin.
As she walked in she saw the racoon.
"Don't be scared," she said.
"It looks pretty docile," I replied.
"I was talking to you."
She was able to scoop up the racoon with her bare hands and put it in the bin without issue. I stared in disbelief at how easy it was compared to the night before.
The cleaning company came, and I got text message updates about their status as I am in class trying not to burst into laughter about the absurdity over the past few days.
I went to the Jennings lecture and sat in the back. He talked about how land ownership was a very colonial idea, and that as Christians we need to understand we don't own anything. It got me thinking back to the raccoons. It made me realize that they were doing what God intended them to do and I was the one going against the natural order of things. It made me take a further step back and re-learn that resentments were truly a self-centered way of approaching the world.
Life is too short to hold onto anger and resentments, even towards nature. What could I really be angry against at the end of the day? We have to take things one day at a time, one raccoon at a time, and realize that all of us eventually hit a point where we're frantically pacing in our front lawns in our pajamas trying to figure out life.
Some Buddhists would say suffering is grace. I would say that Christianity provides the path forward from suffering where it becomes grace. Without the raccoons, I would've never met my new Australian friend. I would've never experienced memory lane of the hiring process. I would've never had new sermon illustration material.
Those, in themselves, are small graces.
The cleaning company came, the roofers patched up the hole, and Marly told me from the get-go to not blame myself.
"Racoons just happen sometimes, man," she said. "They're really good at making sure you don't know they're there. Went to this one couple's house and they had 25 living up there the whole time. Didn't know anything about it until a baby dropped on her as the wife was taking a shower."
It turned out that the raccoons stayed in only one small section of my ceiling and, since I don't spend much time upstairs, that is why I didn't hear anything. Thankfully, the damage is very minimal compared to what could've happened - which is another grace. The church has been extremely gracious and kind with the whole incident, and it's become the stuff of future Lombard Mennonite lore.
The point is we all think we have our lives figured out until a raccoon drops on us out of nowhere, and we're forced to encounter our lesser selves.
I talked to Dan later on about the raccoon crisis.
He said, "Well. That's real interesting. Glad you got something out of our ten minute talk."
That I did, Dan.
That I did.
And... my car is fixed.
All is well.
(Below are some pics from the chaotic few days. Thanks to my church for helping move things along while this was happening!)