It was a cry from deep inside me: "Please make my little son better! Make his fever go away!" I guess I was praying--and I didn't even believe in God. To see me then, with my long hair and colorful clothes, my beard and curlicue mustache, you would have thought you were seeing a clown. I thought of us as the spokespeople of the New Consciousness. The newspapers called us "hippies."
But that night, in the emergency room of a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, I was just an ordinary young dad. And I had done what so many of us did back in those days--left a job, packed the family into an old converted school bus--or as in our case, a camper sitting on a pickup truck--and headed off into the great "out there." We were idealists, and I had convinced myself, we held truth by the lapels. I had all the answers and a B.A. from a good college to prove it.
But three days on the road, somewhere near Nashville, Tennessee, the fever hit Eric with a vengeance. He was two years old, and our comfortable little three-bedroom ranch house, my job, and our well-ordered lives, were all back in Long Island, New York. Now we were hundreds of miles from even the small amount of security I had been able to provide through my job as a radio deejay and newswriter. Now we were almost broke and in the emergency room of a hospital in a strange city.
The ER was busy at 10 o'clock at night. There were broken arms, smashed fingers, overdosing druggies, puking drunks, and anxious parents holding frightened little kids. My wife Sonja, our one-year-old daughter Kim, and I sat on wooden benches in the emergency room. I was scared almost witless by Eric's sudden high fever. What was wrong? Where had I dropped the ball so badly?
Of course the fever was my fault. It had been my idea to sell our house and furniture and move into the camper. I didn't give Sonja a choice. "We'll see the country. It'll be a wonderful adventure," I'd told her, and even though she wasn't convinced it was wonderful, she certainly knew it would be an adventure.
A young doctor in a white smock, his stethoscope carelessly draped around his neck, quickly examined Eric. He said, "Could be meningitis. We'll have to run a spinal to be sure." He lifted Eric from Sonja's lap and carried him through a doorway into the busy main room of the ER. A spinal? For my son? What the heck was a spinal, anyway? Meningitis was a fatal disease, wasn't it?
The time dragged by and I became more and more frightened. Would I ever be able to forgive myself if this sudden, mysterious fever--up to 105 when we got to the hospital--killed Eric?
After more than an hour, the young intern came out to the hallway. I stared up at him, unable to even ask what the results of the test showed. He paused for what seemed like a long time, cleared his throat and said, "Well, it isn't meningitis. Some sort of a flu virus, probably. We got his fever down. He'll be ready to go home in a few minutes."
Sonja and I looked at each other. Her eyes filled with tears of joy, and I guess mine did too.
We continued our wandering, and about two years after Eric's extreme-fever episode, at a small church in Florida, at 8:15 PM, on July 27th, 1972, I got gloriously, foot-stompin', hand-clappin', loud-shoutin', tears-of-joy saved. That was more than 33 years ago. I still have my problems with belief, and with the words and the symbols of religion. But I'll never forget how my cry was heard that night, my cry from deep within. This God, whom I said I didn't believe in, had somehow saved my little son. And, in the process, me.