Today I learned that my plumber’s first name was actually “Cecil.” This was something of a surprise to me–when his white van pulled into our driveway–which it did on a couple of Very Bad Days–the man who fixed the pipes and stopped the water from pouring introduced himself as “Rob.” I suppose I could be pardoned for believing that “Rob” was actually his first name.
Not that it mattered much. Let’s face it: most of us associate plumbers with Very Bad Days–the day the toilet terminally backed up, the garbage disposal fell off the pipe, the valve under the house broke. I don’t think I’m alone in preferring to let days like that bury themselves under the sands of time. In my case, they left me with the satisfaction of knowing that the parts of my house that are supposed to stay dry are, and the deeply comforting knowledge that should a Very Bad Day come again, Plumber Rob would be there with me, mending pipes, replacing valves, and ensuring that I stayed warm, dry, and safely on my own city lot. It was good knowing that–comforting, like knowing that the car will start on cold mornings.
All that came to a screeching halt when one of Plumber Rob’s neighbors took a handgun and started shooting through the business’ windows into a roomful of people. There was a story behind it–the gunman believed that Plumber Rob had turned him in to the local authorities. I don’t know if the story was true–the same article that enlightened me to the real facts of Plumber Rob’s first name also quoted a young woman, one of Plumber Rob’s daughter’s friends, who insisted that he was a real American who wouldn’t “snitch” on anybody—but the real story lies in the very fact that she was there to tell it.
When the bullets started coming through the window, Plumber Rob pushed her down and threw his body over hers. He saved her life by doing exactly what he did for the rest of us in this town, being there when we needed him on the Very Bad Days, sleeves rolled up, scarred hands muddy, saving us from disaster.
He died, and his death reminds us all once again that we are defined not by the actions that grow out of who we think we should aspire to be, but by those that reveal who we are. When the bullets began spraying through the window of Rob Carter Plumbing, there was no time for anyone to puzzle out what “should” be done. There was only time to act–instinctively, thoughtlessly. For Rob–Cecil–Carter, that instinct was to do the same quietly heroic thing he has been doing for decades, place himself between us and disaster. And in that action, in his last action, he showed the color of his soul. It was true blue.