Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's all about Jack

P1090638 Harbord Street Tribute to Jack Layton

This week, Canada has been swept by a wave of grief for the untimely passing of Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party and of L'Opposition Loyale de Sa Majesté. He passed away early Monday morning after a courageous fight with cancer, only a few months after leading his social democratic party to an unprecedented 103 seats in Parliament.

Reams have been written in the last two days about his illustrious career, beginning as a Toronto city councillor (sometimes serving as deputy mayor and acting mayor of Canada's largest city) and continuing as the Member of Parliament for Toronto-Danforth and leader of Canada's social democrats, crowned by his amazing near-sweep of Quebec (unfortunately, the Conservatives very nearly swept my own province of Manitoba. Maybe I should move). He was a musician, a gentleman whom his opponents are proud to honour this week, a father and a friend. But that is not why I am writing about him now.

I just want to talk about one paragraph, in one letter, and what it means to me.

Before he passed away, Jack (and I never knew him, but that is whom he has always been, to me and to thirty-three million other Canadians) wrote a letter to his party, his caucus, fellow cancer sufferers, to young Canadians, and to all of us. He concluded with the following paragraph:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

In the last federal election, I voted for the Greens (mostly because I knew and liked their candidate, and had never even met the others - and I knew the Conservative candidate would win anyway, sigh). In the last provincial election, I voted for the NDP because I liked Gary Doer. Not very good reasons for choosing a party, one might say. I am an incorrigible social democrat, a feminist, a believer in the perfectibility of the world. The personal is always very political, to me.

But I do have a reason to be fired up, to want to change the world, to be loving, hopeful and optimistic. I never met Jack Layton, much to my regret. I think he's the best Prime Minister Canada never had, and now never will have. He was cut down with his work unfinished. The Mishna says the following in Pirkei Avot, a blueprint for an ethical life that we study on Shabbat afternoons:

Rabbi Tarfon taught: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either" (2:16).

I don't yet know what I can do to make the world a better place, but I do feel that it is incumbent upon me, and upon every person who is grieving Jack Layton's untimely passing, to do whatever we can to increase the light in the world, now that such a bright light has gone out.

How will you help make the world a better place?



  1. This is *your* true writer voice. I love this piece, strong and sure. And I love Jack and what he stood for.
    Sniff. You will find a way to change the world, and it will come naturally to you...L

  2. You can honor his memory by telling Shell Oil and the government of Nigeria that the people in the Niger delta have a right to health that overrides their privilege of profit
    I heard of his demise on BBC and was saddened that a liberal voice had fallen silent. I hope a worthy replacement is found soon.

  3. Thanks, Lynne! That's high praise, indeed. I need to follow Dear Sugar's advice more often and try to write from the heart - it is so much better ;-).

    Daddy, I knew you would offer an immediate, practical way of improving the world ;-). Thanks. As to Jack, it's so much more than the silencing of a liberal voice, it's the stopping of a strong force for good in the world. Even Stephen Harper, who is many things but most definitely not stupid, has recognised the place he had in people's hearts and has given him a state funeral. That tells you something. Too bad it is on Shabbat so I can't watch it live, but there will undoubtedly be many clips available ad nauseam ;-).

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with Lynne. If you outlive me, will you write my eulogy?

  5. Thanks, Holly! But I have no intention of outliving you. We will sit together in rocking chairs on the porch of the March96 Nursing Home and complain about our grandchildren.


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