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.