When I woke up on Monday morning to the news of Jack Layton's untimely death, I was completely devastated. My first thought was that I was not in Ottawa when it happened, which made me feel the loss even hard. However, I was fortunate enough that a state funeral was held for him in his home city of Toronto, and I was able to attend with the help of the local NDP Riding Associations.
Getting on the bus yesterday morning was such a fantastic experience. I rekindled relationships with members of the party I haven't seen since the 2008 Federal Election. It made me really think about our conceptualisation of democracy as citizens - that elections are neat bookends and that in between it's not our job to act. For Jack, there was never rest. Trying to change our political, social, and economic systems is a venture that simply has no breaks. Sadly, it took such a devastating event to make us realise this. I hope that the energy that people put into memorialising such a great life will be channelled to make our country a better place.
What probably struck me most - out of the whole experience - was walking to City Hall at Nathan Phillips Square to see the messages of hope and remembrance written on the cold concrete landscape. I took a quick moment to write my own very brief tag, one that read "May your legacy inspire". My voice was lost in a sea of outpouring, but I still felt that others would be moved, as I was moved by others.
While I was taken aback by almost everything I experienced, I would like to cast some light on what I thought was so interesting and lovely about the events. I would like to say that seeing so many people.... tens of thousands of them..... gather together to celebrate a great Canadian was incredibly moving. Regardless of people's political stripes they were there to support someone who mixed honour with politics. Someone who strove to make lives materially better for millions of people in our country. And you could see it by what was said, and by the looks on people's faces, or by what they were saying.
But I think what spoke loudest - to me anyway - was the sheer diversity of people around me, all laughing and crying - remembering and envisioning - together. I sat between a same sex couple, immigrants that barely spoke English, people with an array of disabilities, children, the elderly, Muslims and Christians and aetheists. Everyone celebrating together in what I can only say that Jack's memory can do. It's amazing to think about how divisive and negative politics can be - no other figure in recent history could have garnered this support. It made me feel bad for a brief second when I saw Stephen Harper sitting uncomfortably in the audience. I wondered if he was thinking: "would this be how I'd be remembered?"
I wish that I could write more about Jack, but I'll leave that to the eulogist, NDP statesman and activist Steven Lewis.
"Never in our collective lifetime have we seen such an outpouring, so much emotional intensity, from every corner of this country. There have been occasions, historically, when we've seen respect and admiration but never so much love, never such a shocked sense of personal loss.
Jack was so alive, so much fun, so engaged in daily life with so much gusto, so unpretentious, that it was hard while he lived to focus on how incredibly important that was to us, he was to us. Until he was so suddenly gone, cruelly gone, at the pinnacle of his career.
To hear so many Canadians speak so open-heartedly of love, to see young and old take chalk in hand to write without embarrassment of hope, or hang banners from overpasses to express their grief and loss. It's astonishing.
Somehow Jack connected with Canadians in a way that vanquished the cynicism that erodes our political culture. He connected whether you knew him or didn't know him, whether you were with him or against him.
Jack simply radiated an authenticity and honesty and a commitment to his ideals that we know realize we've been thirsting for. He was so civil, so open, so accessible that he made politics seem so natural and good as breathing. There was no guile. That's why everybody who knew Jack recognized that the public man and the private man were synonymous.
But it obviously goes much deeper than that. Jack, I think, tapped into a yearning, sometimes ephemeral, rarely articulated, a yearning that politics be conducted in a different way, and from that difference would emerge a better Canada"