Birmingham. I saw something shocking. I was in a parking lot when I saw two young men fighting. They were mid-twenties. They were screaming. Their shirts were torn. They were rolling on the ground, kicking each other. They were bleeding.
There was a crowd of onlookers. Someone threatened to call the cops. But the two young men were too busy mauling each other to care.
“Stop this!” a young woman cried.
And I felt helpless.
Our world is full of fighting people right now. Not metaphorically, but worse, digitally. Right now, people want to hurt each other. People want to win. People want to be right.
I learned how to fight as a boy. I come from blue-collar men who believed in using their fists. I was taught at a young age how to execute an uppercut and a left-hand jab. I was schooled on the necessity of violence by rough-handed men who said asserting oneself was the only way to defend against an indifferent world.
But I don’t believe this. In fact, I couldn’t disagree more.
I once got roped into a fight with DJ Newman in the fifth grade after he accused me of cheating at tetherball.
I kindly informed DJ that he was full of a substance common to barnyards and hogpens. Whereupon DJ announced that, when school was finished, he was going to remove my head and deposit it into a well-known orifice of my body.
DJ was an enormous fifth-grader who looked like he could have played fullback on an average SEC wishbone offense. So for the rest of the school day I was a wreck.
So, I faked the flu in hopes of getting sent home. The school nurse, Miss Albertson, who also taught my Sunday school class, knew something was wrong with me.
I told her about how DJ Newman said he was going to smear my backside on the asphalt like the abdomen of a deceased lightning bug.
She thought about this, then said, “That’s very serious. What’re you gonna do about DJ?”
“Well, I was hoping you’d send me home.”
“But that’s only a temporary solution. DJ will still be here when you get back.”
She made a good point. So I asked her to send me home until college.
“I’m not going to send you home,” she said. “You’re going to deal with this in a grown-up way. By playing possum.”
That’s what all our little elderly Sunday school teachers called turning the other cheek. “Playing possum.” This was part of our lessons growing up. We even sang a cute song that went with the lesson.
“When someone picks on me,
“And we both disagree,
“Play possum! Play possum!
“And turn the other cheek…”
It’s a cute theory, but the truth is it’s not practical. Even possums do not “play possum.” That’s a myth.
Zoologists have recently discovered that when a possum is threatened by a predator, it enters into an involuntary state known as thanatosis, or “tonic immobility.” This is a state of deep paralyzation.
Possums aren’t “playing” anything. A possum’s body completely shuts down. A possum’s eyes glaze over, it drops to the ground, stops breathing, quits functioning, then discharges its bowels.
So if I was understanding this old woman correctly, she was advising me to lie still on the pavement and evacuate in my pants in a convincing manner.
“No,” she clarified. “That’s not what I’m saying.”
Then she sang the little jingle again.
And so it was, after school, DJ Newman found me outside on the tetherball court. I followed that wise woman’s advice.
DJ came at me. He struck me once. Twice. Three times. I took every punch he threw. I never hit back. He started slapping me and laughing. I just stood there and waited for him to quit, but he didn’t. He kept kicking and throwing punches. My lips were bloody. My eye was black.
Finally, his tough demeanor broke. He asked whether I was soft in the head. He asked why any idiot would passively let someone hurt them without punching back.
And in a moment of brief clarity, I started singing, “When someone picks on me, and we both disagree…”
DJ started crying. So help me. He actually started crying. And then he disappeared.
I was sent to the school nurse again. She dabbed my bloody mouth with a rag and there were tears in her eyes, too. She hugged and kissed me and said she was proud of me. Then, and only then, did I confide in her that I needed to change my trousers.
Right now, our world has more than enough lions and tigers and bears. Maybe the old church ladies were right.
Maybe what we need right now are more possums.
Don Bedell - June 16, 2022 6:20 am
What are possums most famous for??? Flat… in the road.
Steve McCaleb - June 16, 2022 6:45 am
Why did the chicken cross the road ? To prove to the possum that it COULD be done.
Elizabeth - June 16, 2022 9:49 am
Very thought provoking… Nothing takes more strength and courage than meekness.
Ann Thompson - June 16, 2022 10:02 am
We have too many bullies. Insecure people that have to put others down to try to feel better about themselves. Or intolerant and aren’t intelligent enough to use words instead of fists. “Can’t we all just get along?”
My mothers refrain……
Ed (Bear) - June 16, 2022 10:27 am
Thanks. I needed that.
James Key - June 16, 2022 3:08 pm
You didn’t inject race, as usual, into your column today. Me thinks the men that were fighting were 13 percenters is why you failed to do so. Tell me if I am wrong.
Ellen - June 16, 2022 7:58 pm
Our paradigms really affect how we view life. Although Sean didn’t give any indication of race, I immediately saw white guys slugging it out. People of color never entered my mind.
A powerful and much needed message is shared here today. Thank you, Sean, for playing possum and for telling us about it.
Leigh Amiot - June 16, 2022 10:39 am
My mother’s instructions were a little different. She said she’d better not ever find out we (4 kids) started a fight, but if someone started one with us, we’d better finish it.
Paul McCutchen - June 16, 2022 10:46 am
My Grandfather told me, if someone picked on me (I was small)take them by surprise and punch them right then and there. I informed him I would get a paddling from the principle, He said win or lose that would happen but you would gain respect. I wouldn’t looking for respect I was look Not to get a bruised face. The day finally happened and a big kid hit me with a plastic, sectioned jump rope. I walked toward him and, just like in the movies, he was laughing not with me but at me. I took him out in one punch to the nose (instructions from my Granddad). I was grabbed up by the coach and taken to the office for a paddling. Then sent to the principle’s office for the “fighting won’t solve anything” talk. My dad gave me another paddling because, the understanding was that if I got a paddling in school I would get another one when I got home. So after another paddling and talking to about the sins of fighting I got a shower and sent to my room. The next day school was different. People who used to make fun of my short and small statue seemed to stop and the young man I punched? He still talks about the day he caught me in a bad mood,
Kathy - June 16, 2022 11:03 am
And again I’m so impressed. I look forward to all your stories. Hope you are feeling much better. Thank you
PH - June 16, 2022 11:22 am
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the Sons of God.
Hawk - June 16, 2022 11:33 am
Like Paul McCutcheon, I believe that failure to meet disrespect and aggression with the same, will only embolden the aggressor and bully. As a kid, I too was small, so it took three nose punches to three idiots for me to gain back the respect for myself. To this day, I don’t lower my eyes when I look in a mirror. Self-respect is more important than the respect of others. Never underestimate the apparent meekness of a bantam rooster.
Ricky - June 16, 2022 11:38 am
Amen I needed that! – Matthew 5:39
Erica - June 16, 2022 12:04 pm
Thanks for the truth again Sean! It takes a lot more courage to remain meek than to retaliate.. and in the end it always wins!
Jon LitwillerI - June 16, 2022 12:11 pm
Very interesting in the Power of Love and Submission!
The Dark Lord - June 16, 2022 12:17 pm
for bullies of old that could work … for the new bullies on the Left … they will continue until you are dead … they don’t want to fight you, they want to kill you …
Nance - June 16, 2022 12:52 pm
I’m on the left and I turn the cheek all the time. There are some pretty good bullies on the right too who only want to win. Not sure generalizes comments about every who disagrees with our political view is the way to unit and make this world kinder.
throughmyeyesusa - June 16, 2022 7:33 pm
Reply to Dark Lord: Amen; you have that one right!
This isn’t the fifties anymore. Turning the other cheek is the Christian thing to do, but it doesn’t work with Marxists who are endeavoring to abolish Christianity itself!
magster1945 - June 16, 2022 12:18 pm
I’ve never had that kind of courage…
Gretchen Hitchcock - June 16, 2022 12:42 pm
From the Sermon on the Mount…nonresistance to evil. It took me a long time to understand what this meant, but I finally understand. It’s what Martin Luther King and Gandhi taught about a new kind of resistance. What a wise lady your school nurse was and how brave you must’ve been at the age of ten to do this. Preach on Sean!
Donna - June 16, 2022 12:44 pm
Well I abhor fighting of any kind, I am glad to hear of people taking our their anger with fists rather than guns. So very many of the 132 shooting deaths in Birmingham could have resulted in only bloody lips, black eyes, and bruised ribs if those warriors had chosen not to use deadly force.
Donna - June 16, 2022 12:46 pm
Nance - June 16, 2022 12:58 pm
It’s a fine line isn’t it, knowing when to fight and when to turn the other cheek. As I once heard a spiritual teacher say, “ there’s nothing enlightened about allowing someone to walk all over you.”
She went on to say you can stand firm and say no from a place that isn’t centered in hate. Sometimes, if the issue is worthy of defending, we fight. Other times we do as my friend says and learn to, “ride the wave.”
Martha Martin Black - June 16, 2022 1:00 pm
“Right now, our world has more than enough lions and tigers and bears. Maybe the old church ladies were right”
A hard but valuable lesson! Maybe we all need to pay more attention & practice such good, sound, save, advice. It pays off, eventually, if we but endure..
Sean of the South: The Fighter | The Trussville Tribune - June 16, 2022 1:16 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Nancy Collier - June 16, 2022 1:17 pm
My mom used to say if there was going to be a fight, there would be two hits. She would hit you and you would hit the floor.
MR - June 16, 2022 1:24 pm
Very Interesting food for thought, Sean. And so are all of the comments. I think I’m going to chew on the different viewpoints for a while . . .
Cathy M - June 16, 2022 1:26 pm
As a female I have not experienced physical bullying in my lifetime. However, I have been subjected to verbal bullying and often it was from people who were. Supposed to love me. It took aging to teach me that when anyone continues to bully you with words it’s up to you to sever that relationship. No malice . No hard feelings but you have to protect your heart. It has worked for me
Larry Wall - June 16, 2022 2:15 pm
Sean, I am well familiar with the biblical admonishments about anger and aggression found throughout the New Testament as well as that of the “Do unto others….” and I believe in the basis of those teachings. But I also believe in what I was taught at home about instilling respect for yourself in others by having sufficient strength of character. I was told to “Have enough spunk about yourself to keep the devil off of you.” That is still my strong belief while also believing in not necessarily having to immediately strike back an aggressor.
Lewis - June 16, 2022 2:17 pm
Do not be afraid for I am with you. Do not be discouraged for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Kathy - June 16, 2022 2:24 pm
I didn’t miss the first act of courage in your story, Sean. It wasn’t taking the beating—that was the second act of courage. The first was calling the cheater—who was bigger and stronger—on his cheating. The second act of bravery would not have been necessary without the first. When you see something wrong, speaking up is important. Only then can you continue to maintain that moral high ground.
Kathy - June 16, 2022 2:24 pm
Good advice, Sean.
Ruth Mitchell - June 16, 2022 3:36 pm
If we ever needed to hear this, it is now! Thank you.
Patricia Gibson - June 16, 2022 4:05 pm
Amanda McKinley - June 16, 2022 4:19 pm
So thankful for your writing voice in the world, Sean. Tender, hopeful, kind, humorous, insightful. Grateful for you!
LIN ARNOLD - June 16, 2022 5:17 pm
I wish I could see your theory about “be the possum” working in our country right now. But with all the ugliness and meanness and killing going on, I can’t see the aggressors feeling sorry for the crimes they are committing. I honestly can’t see what would make these aggressors realize that what they are doing is only making everything worse.
James Key - June 16, 2022 6:34 pm
Did you censor my comment; from James Key?
Paul Sams - June 16, 2022 8:37 pm
No James, you were not censored. He said two young men were fighting. That description told us all we needed to know. Does it really matter what the skin color of the two young really matter?
Karen - June 16, 2022 6:51 pm
Dianne - June 16, 2022 7:04 pm
Thank you for this, Sean. Right now, our world is so filled with hate, anger, and bitterness that it isn’t helping or promoting anyone or any country. We need to “play possum” and sing that lovely song.
MAM - June 16, 2022 7:45 pm
I’m afraid I’ll never be a possum. Once when someone cut a hole through a glass door to reach the lock and unlock it (not at our present house and it was in a foreign country), I heard the glass breaking, I ran into the room and slammed the door on the shadow of the person opening the door. (It was night time). He jumped off the second-story balcony and departed the scene. I have no idea if they ever caught him or if he was injured, but he didn’t get inside! And, as for your detractor, James Key, consider him a BULLY of the worst sort – using words! Why does he subscribe and/or comment? Maybe if we ignore him, he will go away? Please, Sean, do not let him hurt you! AND, ALSO we cannot allow the aggressors who are making life almost miserable in our world today to win. We must gain back their respect. We have been meek and accepting for TOO LONG! Sorry for the length, but you got my editorial self going!
oldandblessed - June 16, 2022 8:52 pm
All my life, I’ve been waiting for the lion to tell his story. I never thought the possum might have one.
Linda Moon - June 16, 2022 9:12 pm
Digital IS worse than metaphorical. If I had the time, I’d write a dissertation about the condition of modern times, but I’d rather be swimming. “D.J”s will always be with us, unfortunately. Old church ladies were right. They usually are, and maybe…just maybe…they were metaphorically wearing Rudy Red Slippers!
Jenny Young - June 16, 2022 11:39 pm
Here’s a hug & kiss Sean…just in case anyone has been beating up on you. You have such a gift to be able to see past the horrible actions of people & see their pain. It’s probably a gift you’d rather not have but I’m grateful you take it & show it to the world because we all need to improve in that area. We love you!
Linda Moon - June 17, 2022 12:10 am
RuBy Red slippers! I apologize to all you movie buffs. I’m gonna need some bigger reading glasses! (did you buffs notice that one I slipped in here?)
johnallenberry - June 20, 2022 3:53 am
Mercy, Sean. I applaud your passive approach, but heavens, today folks’ll kill you! I was a bully’s best pastime until I eventually balled my fists and fought back. When the quiet nerdy kid finally stands up for himself, it gets all over school fast. As a result, I only had to fight one more time in my entire school career. Much like Kenny Rogers said in “Coward of the County.”
Be careful. As a humble student of martial arts, talking and diffusing are always preferable, but it is also good to be able to speak the language of violence in case a conversation breaks out.