Who the Hell is Eric and Why is He Protecting Me?

October 20, 2010, by Prudence Baird

When Prudence’s life is saved, she wonders, is it merely coincidence or celestial interference?

I am alive today because Eric, a man I never met, saved my life last month.

No, I am not filtering bodily fluids with Eric’s kidneys; nor pumping blood with Eric’s heart. Heaven forbid Eric should have donated any of his organs! After all, he died of AIDS 30 years ago.

But, according to Catherine, my son’s art teacher, Eric’s fingerprints are all over the recent life-saving business—although some may claim a mouse who nobly sacrificed itself, or that a journalist at the Brattleboro Reformer deserve just as much credit.

Perhaps. So, let’s give credit to Eric, the mouse AND the reporter. And my husband. And anyone else who wants to get in on the credit crawl. After all, once you’ve wriggled free from Death’s icy clutches, you feel a little generous.

Let me backtrack.

In Vermont, bedroom windows open in late spring—as the ubiquitous peeper frogs begin their high-pitched mating whistle—and stay open through early fall, when the warmth of Indian summer nights lulls Vermonters to sleep.

This September, however, a sideways-driven rain forced me—for the first time since we moved into our new home in July—to crank shut the double-glazed, tightly fitting windows, which sealed with a satisfying schlup. That night, a headache woke me in the wee hours, and continued for several days, growing worse at night.

About this time, a critter died in the vicinity of our bedroom closet; I could smell it. After taking apart the built-ins and finding no maggot-infested carcass, Tim and I concluded the animal was both small—probably a mouse—and located inside the wall.

The headaches worsened, morphing into dizziness and nausea. The more I tried not to think, “brain tumor,” the more I was sure I had one.

My husband, who reads all six pages of the Brattleboro Reformer while buying his morning coffee at the local deli, brought home an article that caught his eye—fuel companies fined for failing to add a noxious odor to their product; an odor designed to alert customers of a gas leak. “Do you think that horrible smell could be a propane leak and not a dead mouse?” asked Tim, who now also suffered from a headache.

Our propane supplier was quick to send Mike, a uniformed repairman. “Nope,” he announced after inspecting every inch of gas line, our German-made Buterus furnace and the stove. “That smell is a dead mouse.”

Eric must have tapped Mike on the shoulder because, with one foot out the door, he hesitated. “Maybe I’ll just poke around the back here and see if everything’s hooked up right,” he said, disappearing behind the Buterus.

“Aha! Here’s why you are getting headaches,” Mike showed us a valve that normally pumps odorless carbon monoxide (which Mike euphemistically called “venting product”) outside, but instead was pumping it directly into our bedroom. He reconnected the valve to some tubing, double-clamped it, and was gone—taking with him our headaches.

“Vintage Eric!” crowed Catherine, two weeks after the carbon monoxide incident. She clarified, “Haven’t you ever been at your wit’s end, and then suddenly the answer becomes clear?” She calls these moments—the intuitive, sudden knowingness—Eric, after her best friend who died three decades ago. According to Catherine, he often helps her out of a jam.

I thought for a moment about all the near-misses I’ve had in my life, times when I’ve sent a heartfelt SOS out to the universe. Like the time I was eight months pregnant and my car stalled in the fast lane during rush hour. Out of nowhere, a man in a pick-up truck appeared and pushed my Saab to safety, then disappeared before I could thank him.

There are plenty of other times when, inexplicably, dark curtains parted and help and/or clarity arrived. But what force is afoot when this happens? What brings us the help we need when we need it most? Is it drawn to us—or are we challenged to connect the dots, clues left by our own personal bodhisattva, like Catherine’s Eric, who cares for us from afar?

Maybe the universe is waiting for us to pay attention with our whole selves—to hear, to feel, to smell, to touch and to see—so that we may understand that the solutions and answers we need are always there, folded into everyday life; concealed in the layers of our experiences, like the “coincidence” of the dead mouse odor and the newspaper article about propane. Perhaps, the puzzle pieces themselves are conscious of their role, urging us to snap them together and discover how neatly they all fit together.

And when they don’t fit—when we are rattled or confused, too busy being focused or righteous—to notice what is right there all along, we call this “tragedy.” Tragedies haunt us for a reason. Not only do they make good stories, hit movies and dramas that are performed for hundreds of years—they remind us how, if any one thread is broken, the entire tapestry of life can unravel in an instant.

If government regulators hadn’t done their job and penalized propane companies; if the reporter hadn’t written the story about that penalty action; if, like so many papers nationwide, the Brattleboro Reformer had gone belly up and Tim had never read the story; if Mike the repairman hadn’t gone back for one last peek, and finally, if the mouse hadn’t fallen on his sword inside the wall and sent out a stench; or, maybe Catherine is right. Maybe I am alive today because of a man I never met; a man whose own life ended in tragedy and whose job today is to ensure that yours and mine doesn’t.

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14 Responses to “Who the Hell is Eric and Why is He Protecting Me?”

  1. Kathryn Says:

    That is an incredibly profound bit of wisdom. And just the words I need to hear as life is throwing me seemingly disparate, complicated and unformed opportunities disguised as a harrowing obstacle course. Thank you, Eric.

  2. Julie Lineberger Says:

    “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the ordinary” ~ Emerson
    Lovely! You are very wise, indeed. . . ‎

  3. Nina Says:

    My mother almost died of odorless carbon monoxide poisoning in a rental car with a faulty exhaust. SO glad you had your angel!

  4. SimplyForties Says:

    What wonderful article and a wonderful conclusion. Sometimes things just work out.

  5. beezersmom Says:

    I think the real hero is the government regulator. Or perhaps the legislators who made a law making fuel companies responsible for protecting their customers. So, take that, Ronald Reagan. Sometimes people from the government ARE here to help. And thank God for them.

  6. tim Says:

    that mouse, i have on good authority from eric’s assistant john mahatma, was the third reincarnation of eva braun, working its way up jacob’s ladder to nirvana. let’s all say a jesus sutra for the mouse, peace be upon him.

  7. rosemary Says:

    Well, I grew up Catholic and there is a patron saint for everything. So, when I was little, I would get really quiet and pray to the appropriate patron saint i.e. St. Jude, is the patron saint of lost causes, of which, there are many. Gosh, there is no way to know why or how miracles and moments of grace come about — they are often few and far between for many people. Glad you’ve had your fair share though!

  8. Carine Says:

    I wouldn’t stake my life on it, but I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a coincidence. Excellent piece, Pru, and I’m glad you’re all alive out there!

  9. Breon Says:

    So glad you’re still here to write this beautiful piece. Some form of grace does seem to intervene sometimes, just when we are about to go over the cliff. I like to think of them as messengers, those people and things that carry the needed intervention, and I try to notice them when they come. A lovely, thoughtful article, Prudence, as always.

  10. Cathy Says:

    Beautifully told Pru, thank you for the great reminder that there are angels all around us, to expect the unexpected and to pay attention to serendipity. Also a reminder to not ignore warning signs from things we cannot see or smell. Phew! So glad that the wall mouse sacrificed itself for yours and Tim’s well being.

  11. Conz Says:

    My pal, Barbara, a believer in GOD, and I were having an argument about His existence, and before I could ramp myself up into an Atheistic fit, she said, “You don’t have to call “it” God, you could call “it” Sparky!” Well, I’m still no believer, but I’ve deeply appreciated Sparky’s benevolent intervention between me and death. Thanks Sparky, and damn good timing.

  12. dearpru Says:

    I love the responses to this piece–seems that we’ve all encountered “Eric” upon occasion! (Some of us more often than others!) And I embrace the idea of random grace. To codify Eric is to lose the essence of divine grace and do him–and all of humanity–a disservice, as organized religions have proven time and time again.

  13. dearpru Says:

    My friend, Nancy, who read this wrote to me, “There are no coincidences,” and I replied:
    I wonder, Nancy. I vacillate between believing this–that there are no coincidences–and the thought that there is only chaos, with also includes self-contained patterns within its randomness. Because how else do we “explain or excuse” the horrific incidents of our times, like the Holocaust and Rwanda? Or why cancer cuts down those who have so much to give while Dick Cheney keeps on ticking.

  14. christie Says:

    The Ericness of the Cosmos is wondrous to behold. I have returned to my amateur studies of Jung and synchronicity. How superb it is to open the door and the mind each morning. Thank you for sharing Eric.

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