When we’d seen his press conference announcing his cancer had returned, he looked translucent. He had that breathy voice that my mother had had during her last few weeks. Fuck cancer.
Even today, as I biked through Nathan Phillips Square at City Hall, I saw people gathering, writing messages in chalk, and trying to find a moment of respect. A few people started to sing O Canada. I bristled - I am not sure why. I don't like sing-alongs, I guess, I don't like being muscled into sentiment that starts on someone else's note. Do you know what I mean? I wanted a moment to miss Jack.
I had the good fortune to meet him years ago, both socially and professionally at his home with is wife, for whom he had such visible love and shared passion. They opened their Chinatown home to any number of co-workers, volunteers, youth as a place to organize, celebrate, and brainstorm. They were part of the community, never afraid to be goofy, game for anything. Whether the solstice parade or gay pride, they’d be out there boogying in costume, kicking it with the band.
There is so much I would like to say about this man. He was never cynical, always positive. In an era when politics are fuelled by fear and evil characterizations, he stayed above the fray with his message that we can take better care of each other.
If you know me at all well, you’ll know that I loathe attending protests or demonstrations. There is something about them that is so cringeworthy. The big ones get hijacked by the big voices and droning slogans, the small ones seem dispiritingly lame.
But I saw Layton at both kinds of demonstrations (that I willed myself to attend), and he never cringed or lost his message of optimism. Today my friend Dwight wrote this on his FB wall:
“Earth Hour in Toronto, March 2011. Thirty people showed up at city hall. Layton was one of them. He said although our number was small, we should not be discouraged. And I thought about all the tiny demonstrations he must have attended in his life, all the time spent with idealistic strangers, facing down their disappointment. There was no reward, no office that could account for his commitment.”
There is so much we can learn from this man. But today, I say this to myself. Cynicism sounds so wise and world-weary, but it’s just fear faking a brave face. Defy your fear of being characterized as naive. Take up something you care about and organize and demonstrate in a way that is meaningful to you. Get over that ego driven-fear of something being lame, because it will be filled with plenty of odd and awkward moments. It’s part of the process. And while you do so, remember that even for the leader of the Federal opposition, there were moments where only a handful of people showed up. And he pushed on.