Monday, August 22, 2011

A simple goodbye to a far-from-simple man

I was going to post a silly fluff piece about my dog this week. And that will come. But today, I'm writing something a little more serious.

I am sad today. I am sad, because Canada has just learned of the loss of one of its most prominent politicians, a few short months after he succeeded in bringing his party a level of electoral success that many had believed the NDP could never achieve. I am sad, because Jack Layton's most recent Facebook post declared that he was determined to come back to politics, and he would fight his battle with cancer and win. I am sad, because regardless of one's politics, it would be hard to deny that Jack Layton was a man who really, truly believed in his party's platform. He was a man who cared about Canada and its people. He had many detractors, and although they may have come to different conclusions from him about what Canada needs, even they would have to admit that Layton was a man who cared. He never had the appearance of a power-hungry sellout; he was a man who believed every word he ever spoke. He was a man with passion.

About a month ago, the idea came to me to write a three-part series on my experiences meeting various celebrities. One of those celebrities was indeed Jack Layton. And I had set the idea aside for a later date. But then, a tired-looking Layton made the announcement that he was stepping down from government to focus on his health. No one could blame this clearly ill man for taking that decision. I decided to post my three-part series earlier than I had planned, with the intention of prefacing Part 2 with a note about my concern for Layton's health.

In my initial introduction to that piece, I was going to say that I was writing it to demonstrate what a powerful presence Layton carried, and to say that people like me needed him to fight so he could return to politics healthier and stronger. Although the piece wasn't about his politics or even, really, him - it was instead about my own girlish bashfulness in meeting him at a work function a couple of years ago - I thought describing the sheer excitement I felt in meeting him was maybe a way of lighteheartedly declaring my support for him without saying as much. I wanted to try and lay all of those complicated emotions out in writing at the start of the story.

It felt ominous, though. After reading my intro to that blog piece, I realized that I didn't want to preface it that way. I thought the words in the body of the post spoke volumes all by themselves about the way I feel about Jack Layton, and I decided to keep the tone of the post silly and fun, because sometimes humour is the easiest way to deal with sadness. I didn't think of it consciously at the time, but seeing the images of Layton at his July 25 press conference scared the shit out of me. Maybe, in the end, I couldn't face the very real possibility that Jack Layton was a very sick man who might not survive. I didn't have the honour of knowing him personally, but his death has upset me more than I think I could have anticipated. I feel like a mess right now, like I've lost a friend.

Jack Layton will be greatly missed. I was barely interested in politics until my early 20's, but his passion and dynamism drew me straight to the NDP as soon as I was preparing to cast my first ballot in a federal election. There are some things that I don't like about the NDP. I don't agree wholeheartedly with all of their policies. But the one thing I've always known about the NDP is that they had a leader who really fucking gave a shit about Canada, and who would work hard, and faithfully, to restore the progressive social democracy that we used to stand for. I don't know what the future holds for the NDP, or how Nycole Turmel is going to work out as their new leader (if she does indeed keep that title). But I know that their future accomplishments, however great or small they may be, are going to owe a lot to Jack Layton and his astounding success in mainstreaming the party.

I might be a lowly humour blogger who never knew the man personnally. But from what I could tell, Jack Layton loved people. He loved Canada. And Canada loved him back.

I don't think I can write any more on this, because I'm too upset right now. I can scarcely even edit this piece without crying. But I am going to post it anyway, and I hope it will serve as a sufficient send-off, however poorly structured it may be. This is not the first, and will hardly be the last, of heartfelt goodbyes. I'm sure that many will say it much more eloquently than I'm currently capable of doing.

Thank you, Jack Layton, for all you've done for Canada. My thoughts are with your loved ones during this difficult time. Rest in peace, and know that Canada will never forget you.

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