Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Man You Won't Meet Everyday: Jack Layton

"My friends, watch out for the little fellow with an idea." - Tommy Douglas
Canada is mourning a Prime Minister that should have been - Jack Layton, the greatest politician our country has seen since Tommy Douglas. The comparisons have been frequently made and will continue for a long time to come. Both were NDP leaders (Social Democrats) of Anglo dissent who loved their work and approached it as they did life; as optimists who believed in the collective will of people to change the world for the better.

(Jack Layton & Olivia Chow, 1997)
Most people do their work; Jack Layton loved his. And it showed. As with those rare individuals who relish what they do, Layton attracted others to his side and inspired their loyalty. That's what he did until last Monday when he passed away from cancer at the age of 61.

Yuko and I have just returned to Canada from living abroad for over 10 years and his passing is my very first genuine sorrow back home. I was looking forward to watching Jack in action, participating in his project to better the world.

I was too young to see Tommy Douglas in his prime so my recollections are culled from old archived news reels and his written words. Above all, what stands out is his voice and his undeniable integrity. With Jack I recognized the same timbre, the same dignity minus pretense or overwrought gravitas. It's the same quality of sincerity I recognize in the music of Stan Rogers and Leonard Cohen, in the poetry of Al Purdy or Susan Musgrave and in the paintings of Emily Carr or Lawren Harris. As a Canadian, I recognize this uniqueness as intrinsically belonging to us.

(Lawren Harris, "North Shore, Lake Superior," 1926)
An American or a Spaniard might hear or see something completely different and attach their own cultural attribute to it, but it will always remain originally from Canada. Sure, it's white, Anglo-Canada but that doesn't diminish its power for me.

(Tommy Douglas, 1968)
My own spiritual beliefs are agnostic but they bend towards belief in a just universe. I see karma at the centre, but as I grow older I also recognize something larger, perhaps grace, also at work. Grace, as Bono sang, "finds goodness in everything." It's faith, not only that my good or bad deeds will be returned, but that something beyond my control can also deliver me into the hands of joy. It's as simple and as plain as what Jack wrote in his last letter to Canadians:
"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."
It's not only there in the substance, but also in that tender phrase, "My friends." That's grace - the faith that a stranger is not really one at all, but is a soon-to-be friend. And as Tommy Douglas said:
"Courage, my friends; 'tis not too late to build a better world."
(Greg Perry)
Thanks, Jack, for your courage and grace...

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