Courage for Our Friends

After ten weeks in Houston, George Rodrigue and I returned today to New Orleans for a bittersweet homecoming, as we change our undesired summer’s routine, while leaving behind the people who shared our experience, the people we grew to love.
It’s weird, I said to George a few weeks into our summer, it’s not like we’re in Houston; it’s like we’re on some medical planet.
We saw some of them weekly, some daily.  We held in common personal struggles, each unique and similar at the same time, folks from around the world, some fighting for their lives, some saving lives, but all grounded, as we practiced together the rawness and realness of life outside of the expectations and obligations of normality. 

“I’m recycling my life,” noted George, mid-summer, as we discussed our situation.  “I didn’t expect this new experience, and we should make as much of it as we can; because we’re all living in the moment, whatever that may be.”

For George and me, this was an oddly welcome diversion from society, from fundraisers and dinner parties, from lectures and book signings, from the curiosity and gossip that accompany his fame. 

(Note:  as if on cue, a tour group, on segways no less, pauses just now, as I write this, below the window of our Faubourg Marigny home; their guide tells of the great Louisiana artist within-)
Still, George gave impromptu art lessons this summer in the most unlikely of places.  Too weak to paint, he embraced these discussions, sharing not because he felt obligated, but because he sincerely misses painting, and because his new friends relate less to the celebrity and more to the man.

“Every great artist has taken a common thing and made people see it in a different way,” he explained earlier this week.

There are people, we all know them, who live life on the surface.  Maybe pretense is easier; maybe it follows from childhood defenses or a sense of self-preservation.  Some seek the cliché and “find themselves,” while others drift happily in a contrived and, perhaps safer, existence.

“The closer you are to who you really are — is the best thing,” counters George, as we philosophize.  “Yet most people can’t get past 5:00 p.m.”

This summer, George Rodrigue and I experienced for the first time in our lives a Reality Planet (as opposed to Reality TV!), a place immersed in raw emotions, genuine concern, unabated fear, and tenacious courage.
I’ve never seen him turn down strawberries and cream, I whispered, distressed, to one new friend.  She nodded and smiled, because she knew.

“He’ll like them again,” she said.  “I promise.”

….and her empathy, a welcome epidemic on this Reality Planet, comforted me.
Today, I can say with certainty that a healthy and strong George Rodrigue will return soon to his easel.  His ordeal began more than twenty years ago, when paint fumes and varnishes poisoned his body, and it culminated this summer with a near collapse of his spine followed by ten weeks of treatment.

 “What does that mean?”

…he asked his doctor, who warned him of the flu-like side effects of one medication.  The doctor looked at me, confused.
He doesn’t know the flu, I explained.  He only knows big stuff, like polio and the plague.
George Rodrigue is stalwart in the face of difficult situations, and from the beginning I believed (because I had to) that, one way or another, he would beat his illness.

“A lot of stuff, good and bad, happens to me; but I don’t let any of it get attached to me.  Once I make myself happy, that’s the end of it.  I paint a painting; I’m happy; and that’s me.” -G.R.

Both of us, as this summer ends, struggle with the good news far more than the bad.  We are trapped within our guilt, and many nights George cries, “Why me?,” as we think of our new friends.  We couldn’t bring ourselves to tell them while in Houston of a rare mutation, discovered just last week within his disease, treatable with a simple pill, and guaranteeing his recovery.
Folks talk of grace, karma, luck, fate, what have you – but none of this explains our situation; because George Rodrigue, the oldest in the room, will recover, while these young folks with young families still fight and fight and fight.
We are home for a short time, and we are changed.  How exactly remains to be seen.  But something happened…..something BIG.

-for a related post, see “Lucky Dog“-

-pictured within this post, paintings by George Rodrigue, 2003, detailed at this link; click photos to enlarge-

-for more art and discussion, please join me at Gambit Weekly or on facebook


31 thoughts on “Courage for Our Friends

  1. I think that was as" close to who you are as you really are" as you can get. Thanks for that window of reality into mortality. Welcome Home!

  2. As Marion likes to quip when faced with philosophizing: " That's an awfully deep subject for such a shallow well." and I know the complexity of all that this experience has brought to your plate is quite difficult to wrap your minds around…even the good news. George is right. all is well when you feel "right" or content within your inner self. Happy painting and blogging and living.

  3. I loved this so much; i'm still crying. Thanks for sharing Wendy.
    Can't wait to see y'all whenever the time comes. Safe travels!

  4. "…a rare mutation, discovered just last week within his disease, treatable with a simple pill, and guaranteeing his recovery."
    DID I READ THIS RIGHT? Did you bury this in all the other beautiful thoughts because we need all of them, too? Actually, there's a quote from George that I NEED for the rest of my life, and also retroactively:
    “Every great artist has taken a common thing and made people see it in a different way.”
    With attribution, I'm going to print it in a pretty color and tape it to my computer. Thank you, George, thank you, Wendy. Thank you, whoever found that pill.

  5. Thanks Wendy for writing so beautifully, it makes me want to read it over and over again… though dreamlike, I welcome it's reality

  6. Two dear friends lost a child today. Thank you for reminding me that we all live in the moment. Some are blessed with more moments than others. Hope is the gift we can share with one another.

  7. Don't waste your energy on feeling guilty. The discovery of the mutation and subsequent treatment and recovery are all blessings. We miss you at the Annex and look forward to seeing you when you return to Houston. Much love, H & J

  8. Love you both and you are right – spending time like that is something "Big" and life changing. Use your new perspective to deepen your lives and art.

  9. Dear Wendy and George,

    I recently learned of George's medical problems.
    I applaude you both. My thoughts and prayers
    are with you. Yesterday was the anniversary of Jack's passing at 59! We all need to thank God and appreciate every day we are given.
    Ginger Denis

  10. So glad that George is on the road to recovery. The Lord of the Rings video was fitting when the lady said to the young boy Whatever happens, stay close and I will not let anything happen to you. We'll I guess that is just a fine description of how you and George are to each other, aka LOVE.
    Tell George I said hello.
    Jay O'Rourke

  11. We speak of you both, and others, every day. And not only do we look forward to seeing you in Houston, we will enjoy sharing with you the Big Easy. With love and friendship, Wendy and George

  12. Thank you, Ginger. You and Jack were among George's earliest New Orleans collectors of Blue Dog paintings. And then George and I were fortunate enough to get to know you as friends. We hope to see you soon.

  13. Prayers lifted up for healing, comfort and joy for George and you. May Gog bless you and keep you~

    Dawn Smith

  14. Wendy- I related to this emotional piece. My middle son has a kidney disease- treated by pills and he should outgrow. Each time we travel to Shands, I drive there feeling sorry for our health challenge. However, I drive home realizing how fortunate we are to be able to simply drive home and pick up where we left off the day before. Thanks for sharing and glad you are both home. 🙂

  15. When I first found your blog, and discovered you were in Houston for a time, I didn't realize the circumstances. I lived and worked in the Medical Center for a time – it's a place of miracles, every day, whether cures are found or not.

    I followed the link you provided to those earlier days, and the role of chemicals in George's illness. It struck me, hard. I gave up one kind of life for quite another 22 years ago, and for all of those years I have been varnishing boats. Five years ago, though I wasn't ill, I had a sense that I needed to stop doing interior work in favor of exterior brightwork. Obviously, my sense of things was right – perhaps more right than I realized.

    My best to you both. Home is a great healer. I'm glad you're there.

  16. Wendy: So sorry for the trials George (and you)are going through. James 1:12 tells us "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." Love your attitudes — they are 90% of the fight.
    Praying for both of you.
    Alice Gilley Ball Breuer

  17. I was so excited when I read that you two were coming to Amarillo. What an honor it will be to have you here. I look forward to meeting such inspiring people and hope to bring my grand daughter, a young teen with aspirations to do something she loves as I do…art. I hope you find that Amarillo has some of the most friendly people around and you enjoy and remember your time here.

  18. you put into words so beautifully what we survivors feel. continuing to live while over 40 of my friends (some older, some younger) were diagnosed, battled and didn't survive, for me a humbling, grateful, guilty, thankful feeling. It is one that is really hard to understand by those who have not experienced it. thank you for your beautiful words. All the best to you and your hubby. He obviously has things left to do.

  19. Oh Melissa, that is many, many people. Thank you for sharing your experience here; it has added more emotion and depth to the post. Best wishes for your continued good health and happiness-

  20. Hi Mary, Well, you're among the first to know, as George and I face facts this morning that he is not yet well enough to travel. This is the only opening we've ever missed – and we could not have been more excited to see the wonderful museum and folks of Amarillo, Texas. Although on the mend, George is simply not yet well enough to travel. His son Jacques Rodrigue will present in his place. Jacques represents his father well – and today, August 10, happens to be his birthday! Hope you, your granddaughter, and your community enjoy "Blue Dogs in Texas."

  21. I am deeply saddened to learn of George's illness, but yet lifted in spirit in knowing that he is on the mend. This experience is going to produce more amazing Blue Dogs in ways his admirers never dreamed. Sounds as if you two know how to face adversity and are strong together in your fight. May you have great health soon….God Bless…

  22. Miss Wendy
    I too have been a patient in Houston. And many hospitals since. I understand how time came seem to stretch beyond one's self. If I could take this on from Mr.George .(and you) I most certainly would.

    My Cajun Silkscreens & my beloved Blue Dogs give my spirit peace.

    George through his work has graced my life since 1990!

    I wish you Mr George healthly..and YOU & both and
    your families all the best



Comments are closed.