My friend Helen was English on her father’s side and Scots/Irish on her mother’s. She was born in a village near the center of England.
“You don’t have to believe me,” she said when we were 60, with advance forgiveness – we had been friends for nearly a half-century – “but St. George came to me when I was 10. He helped me.”
She was speaking of a time when her natal family started to fall apart because of her father’s illness and death. Her natal family was never coherent again. She went on to make her life and she had a successful career.
She died five years after she spoke to me about St. George.
My last gift to her was a St. George killing the dragon painted in the Ethiopian tradition on goat hide.
“Thank you,” she said and made out that she was happy that I had believed her.
She knew I always believed her. I recall thinking how, even after 50 years, friendship has to be ritually confirmed: exchanges of gifts; recounting and repositioning of histories; kisses.
Friends have no legal standing with each other. Whatever moral standing there is lies in deep fog. It is easier, in the Christian tradition, to know that you are supposed to love an enemy, a neighbor, a stranger met on the road. But a friend? Deep fog.
Friends of long standing toss each other in a moment, split apart along a hair-line fracture become an abyss. Mystifying fog.
This never happened to our friendship. We had a will to affection no matter what. And we ran into perplexing whats periodically. But we were lucky also.
Then one day, fifty-one years after we first greeted each other, our luck ran out and Helen died.
It seems that the love of her natal family, shattered when she was 10, may have saved her. May have. Her last note pointed to this. It was at that initial shattering of this family that St. George had come to her.
I have seen many renditions of the saint from several faith traditions and usually on horseback killing the dragon.
This is my favorite rendition: a figure watchful , dispassionate and erect – as in with rectitude – standing with climbing roses. Helen loved and cultivated roses.
St. George painted in 1892 by Marie Spartali Stillman, 1844 – 1927, British. Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware. 2015
The artist adopted the aesthetic values and themes of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.