Thursday, January 04, 2007

Helen, Paul, Francis and Rosie

In the middle of writing a book about the people who have returned to rebuild New Orleans, I have received news that one of us has been murdered, and her partner wounded. One that I knew and admired greatly- Helen Hill.
The murder seems even more shocking as she and husband Paul were among the most childlike and innocent people I knew, with an infant son Francis recently added to their family, a quiet and happy grouping that included their pot bellied pig Rosie, both of whom were unharmed in the crime.

Helen was a filmmaker, (god, I have to use the term was) and Paul is a doctor who has spent his life working among the indigent and needy. They seemed 2 halves of a whole; and when Francis was born, it seemed as if they had done another good deed for the world, since a child born of these gentle souls would only bring good.

I had seen them soon after they returned to New Orleans this year from Canada. They had been part of an artists studio tour in the Marigny and the Bywater; I was more than pleased to see them; I felt as if another piece of the rebuilding was in place, since they added another family, another creative partnership, another caregiver in Paul’s work, and not least, more positive cheerful, welcoming faces to come upon on a trip to the coffeehouse, an art event or at the park.
Ironically, they were worried about the safety of their family returning to New Orleans only as it related to the quality of air and water; they had made their decision to return even with those concerns because they loved their adopted city.

I mourn the loss of their household. I worry that Francis will fear the city that took his mother’s life and took part of the peace from his father. I worry that bitterness will seep in, and take away the untouched beauty Helen represented to us.

I took a walk on a newly created labyrinth that friends and I made on New Years Day and thought about this tragedy, and about Helen herself. I came out of the labyrinth with 2 thoughts; to find a way to remember and honor Helen in a way that will keep her spirit alive among us that are left, and a promise to keep fighting the darkness that is touching us all by creating more positive space and moments together for our tragic, yet extraordinary city.

and from Robert:

News has just arrived of the murder and shooting of two of the most
kind and generous people who this community has ever seen. I met
HELEN HILL at our coffeehouse community space where she was teaching
class for the New Orleans film collective. I've never met a more
pleasant person. She now lies dead from being shot in her Marigny
home. Dr. Paul Gailiunas was also shot while carrying their newborn
child. The child is unharmed, but Paul is seriously injured, but
likely to survive. Paul's clinic saw many poor people, including some
of my employees in an Esplanade clinic. He has received numerous
Community Awards for his work with homeless and under priviledged.
His band, "The Troublemakers" entertained with a progressive
political commentary, a testament to love and action against injustice.

These people didn't deserve this! We don't deserve this! When will
this insanity stop? A lifetime of love snuffed for who knows what. I
wish Paul and Helen had made the selfish decision and stayed in
Canada or wherever...how could we waste their gift...and this is the
fifth murder in the last 14 hours. I can't believe this couple wants
our bowed heads or silent prayers. What they would want is action. I
can't take this anymore. Does anyone else feel this level of outrage?
Does anyone else feel we must get the guns off the streets, we must
eliminate priviledged and underclasses, we must stop drug
exploitation, we must not tolerate racism, violence, hate...

I for one believe that unless we do something to make fundamental
changes, we have pulled the trigger and fired the shots that have
killed and destroyed these beautiful beings. I'm taking this one
personally.

Robert Thompson


From Dave Cash:

fieldsofgarlic (fieldsofgarlic) wrote,
@ 2007-01-10 12:56:00

A Helen Hill Song
Like many people I know, I'm spending a lot of my time lately thinking about Helen Hill and her senseless death. There are so many aspects. First, there is Helen herself and the waves of loss that hit her husband and son the hardest, then her family and close friends, then her acquaintances, then those who only met her or whose children played with her son. The ripples go out farther and farther, their impact diminishing as they go, but being felt nevertheless. There will always be a painful emptiness where Helen once was.

Beyond Helen herself, there was the incredible impact she'd had and was continuing to have. Her good work for needy people was something many of us wish we would do, but don't. And her art, her films, her whimsical (and sometimes gently tricky) expressions were also worthy of aspiration. Luckily, we still have all this, her legacy and our memories; it's the part of her that didn't and won't ever die.

And then there's the crime. My mother is terribly worried for my safety. She wonders why Ana and I can't live somewhere safer. If I really didn't care about my beloved New Orleans, I would probably pack up and go. But some things are worth fighting for. When I moved to this city in the early nineties, crime was brutally high then too. But things changed and the crime rate came down. I know it can happen again. I refuse to live in fear, but it still tugs at all of us who live here now.

Behind the crime, there's the sad fact that while many of us in society can and do weave a beautiful, if imperfect, fabric of trust and interdependence, there are some--a growing number, I fear--who are not a part of this. There are far too many reasons for this. In every neighborhood, children are disenfranchised every day, in many ways. Their hearts harden at a young age and before long they are isolated--not in our arms, as they each should be. I don't know how, but if we don't find a way to reach these children, it will be at both their peril and ours.

Today is Helen's memorial service in South Carolina. For the last few days, I have been working on a song about her. Here's a quick recording I made of it:

"Helen Hill" by Dave Cash (2:08, 2.2Mb)

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License.


The words and chords are as follows:

Helen [Am]Hill was shot and [C]killed
In her [Am]own home last [F]night
On the [C]fourth day of a [G]new year
That [E7]still seemed so [Am]bright
Her [F]dreams were cut [C]short
When that [E7]nightmare creeped [Am]in
And [F]took sweet [C]Helen
From her [G]family and [C]friends

Helen [Am]Hill was shot and [C]killed
For no [Am]reason we [F]know
She [C]fought and she [G]pleaded
But he [E7]still laid her [Am]low
[F]Down went the [C]kindness
[E7]Down went the [Am]care
[C]Out went the [G]love
With her [F]last breath of [Am]air

I [Am]dreamed I [C]saw
[Am]Helen Hill last [F]night
She was [C]smiling and [G]shining
Like a [E7]heavenly [Am]light
Bright [F]words she was [C]sewing
Right [E7]into the [Am]sky
[F]Flickering in [C]starlight,
"[G]I didn't [C]die."

Helen [Am]Hill was shot and [C]killed
A dear [Am]mother and [F]wife
The [C]last thing she [G]ever did
Was to [E7]save her boy's [Am]life
So [F]what are we [C]made of
If we [E7]don't do our [Am]best
To [C]reach into the [G]darkness
And [F]save all the [Am]rest?

3 comments:

The Barckoopers said...

Hi, Helen was one of my closest friends. I lived with her and Paul back in Halifax (Canada). My husband and I live in South Korea. Our mutual friends in Canada told us this morning, by phone. The only comfort right now is seeing loving tributes and I think all we can do is try to bring more love to the world, like Helen did.

Take care, everyone,
Becka Barker

rocketdyke said...

some of us are setting up a tribute site to helen: www.helenhill.org

if you want to email memories, photos, stories, whatnot, please send them to memory [at] helenhill [dot] org and we will start organizing them.

god, I still can't believe what has happened.

Cathy said...

I am in Halifax. What can we do for New Orleans?
This is so very sad.