A week has passed since we heard the news about Jack Layton, and I still tear up when I hear people talking about it. It’s strange.
It’s easy to dismiss, as some have, our country’s conspicuous outpouring of grief as mere celebrity worship. I’ve never met the man whose death has effected me so deeply. But I’ve also never been one for celebrity worship. I didn’t watch (or even care about) princess Diana’s funeral. I can identify very few actors by name. I’ve never had Margaret Atwood’s robot arm sign a book. I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t even remember who wrote my favourite novel without Googling the title (I just did. The author’s name is Brad Watson).
I am grieving for the loss of a man who cared deeply about the things that I care about, and who spoke with passion, compassion, and class about the things that he cared about. He cared about fairness, the future, and even books (remember his promise to exempt books from GST like other essential purchases?). He taught us to embrace the impossible and make it possible.
This weekend, The Globe and Mail published a poem for Jack Layton written collaboratively by “an optimism of” Canadian poets that made my eyes leak again this morning. I can’t think of a better word for a group of poets than “an optimism.” May poets and poetry teach us to embrace the impossible, to speak when it’s easier to be silent, and to leave a lasting impression.
From A Poem For Jack Layton:
Ice in punchbowls on rooftops in Toronto. Love is better than winter speech breath bubbles. Love is better than women on vacation, better than anger. Hope is better than a headshot, or a Peace Tower.
They say his smile defined his politics. Out of optimism, out of an inward sunshine that took no rest. To refuse his opponent’s foreclosure on the common good. In knowing that the growing front of culture war has no singular face.
Who will stand up for me now?
We will wave canes as wands as tuning forks as white ribbons as rafters as olive branches. We renew our commitment to his life’s work. We will wear smiles as deep breaths as shared tongues as porch lights as changes of fortune.