Dr. Paul Gailiunas has been my hero ever since I met him — what, five years ago? It seems like I’ve known him forever.
He’s the only punk rock anarchist vegan doctor I’ve ever known.
But he is a hero for how he’s lived his life, dedicating himself to helping the poor, the hungry, the uninsured. He has demonstrated an exemplary love for humanity. And the cornerstone of that love was his relationship with his wife, Helen Hill, and their two-year old son, Francis Pop.
When I heard Helen had been killed Thursday, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t accept it. Couldn’t process it. Even after digesting the basic facts, it still seemed like an unreal scenario, a nightmare from which I hoped to awaken.
It wasn’t until seeing Paul in the flesh yesterday evening that it became so painfully real. He was shot three times, point blank, so I was amazed that he was out of the hospital at all, much less walking around. He was bandaged up, but really doing remarkably well — physically.
As for his psychic state, I can’t even begin to fathom the pain he must be experiencing. I feel absolutely shattered by Helen’s death. How many more times could this despair and anguish be multiplied in one human soul before some sort of limit is reached? It’s terrible even to contemplate.
Here’s a picture of Paul in far, far happier times:
I love this picture because it captures a bit of his exuberant personality. Like Helen, Paul seemed to be always happy. And now — will we ever share a laugh together again? It doesn’t seem possible.
It’s so difficult to imagine Paul without Helen. Their relationship was one of the greatest true love stories I’ve ever had the privilege to encounter.
When I first got the news of the shooting, I was so distraught that I’d mistakenly thought they had both been killed. When I realized Paul had survived, for one brief second I actually thought, that’s worse. A horrible thought, I suppose. I wasn’t thinking of Francis at the moment. But that’s how difficult it is for me to imagine Paul without Helen.
Paul’s gifts as a songwriter and musician were a wonderful complement to Helen’s talents in the visual arts. In Halifax he led a band called Piggy. In New Orleans he led a band called the Troublemakers. He also had a solo act: Ukulele Against the Machine.
I passed along a couple MP3s to a Times-Picayune reporter and they were posted on nola.com. I’d like to share them here as well.
“Health Care Is a Human Right” is an anthem that really lays out Paul’s philosophy as a doctor and a humanist, and it’s a great example of the peppy, political, ska-inflected rock music the Troublemakers played.
“The Maharishi Effect” is a gentle love ballad which I am certain Paul wrote for Helen. I used to think this verged on sappiness, but now it just seems like pure sweetness, and I can’t get it out of my head. Listen to the lyrics:
Many of us here find it hard to trust
We know that life tends to play many cruel tricks on us
But all I can think about is love, sweet love
Every mosquito in the air is a turtle dove
Wedding cakes are all that I keep thinking of
Yes, life certainly does play some cruel tricks. But this is beyond cruel.
Paul is leaving New Orleans today with his son. I wish we could provide some comfort and support, but his family will have to do that for now.
There’s so much more I want say but I can’t find strength or the time.