Do you know how to catch a raccoon? I mean good old backwoods ingenuity, no guns, no weapons of mass destruction. Well, I didn’t know either, until some years ago when my daughter was in the fifth grade and had to do a book report on the children’s classic Where the Red Fern Grows*. I finally got to read it! It’s a lovely coming-of-age story about a boy and his coon hounds in the Ozarks of northeastern Oklahoma in the early 20th century.
In this story, the boy needs his first coon to train his hound puppies, so he goes to his grandpa who is wise in the ways of the woods. And here’s what his grandpa tells him to do: bore a hole in a downed log, and put nails in all around, with just enough space for a raccoon paw. At the bottom of the hole put something shiny, like a quarter-size piece of tin. Along comes the raccoon and he’s terribly curious, attracted by the shiny metal. He puts his paw in to grab the tin, and once he has hold of it, his fist is too big to get it back through the nails. But he’s too stubborn to let go, and so he’s caught.
Well, the boy is skeptical but he sets up the trap anyway, and once his scent has worn off — which takes about two weeks — sure enough, he goes out one morning and there’s a raccoon. So it seems that even though raccoons are pretty smart, they’re maybe not quite smart enough to see that sometimes what they really need to do is to “let go.”
What are you holding on to that is keeping you trapped, just like the raccoon? Can you imagine the life-giving freedom that could come from letting go of it?
In the Greek of the New Testament, the word for “let go” is the same word that is also, in other passages, translated as “forgive.” When you image forgiveness as letting go, and remember the raccoon, you begin to understand the truth of Annie Lamott’s description: “Bearing a grudge is like taking the rat poison yourself, and then expecting the rat to die.” There is no way out except to forgive, to let go. Remember the raccoon.
*Rawls, Wilson. Where the Red Fern Grows (Yearling, 3rd edition, 1996).