8.29.2011

celebrating jack: "one should always have a dream that is larger than a lifetime"


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Nothing remains to be said about Jack Layton, the man and the leader. I certainly can't say anything that hasn't been said so many times already. I can only continue to miss him, and to pledge my determination to his cause - to our cause. But I thought I would tell you about my day. The photos were taken by Allan on Friday, August 26 and by me on Saturday, August 27.

Allan went to Nathan Phillips Square on Friday. He was amazed and impressed and moved, noting that it reminded him of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Allan and I saw the AIDS Quilt displayed on the National Mall during a huge LGBT-AIDS demo, and it's a fitting analogy to the outpouring of love and remembrance for Jack Layton.

I got to Nathan Phillips Square around 8:30 on Saturday, August 27. There were already several hundred people waiting to pay respects to Jack. I normally find coffin visitations a bit strange. This time, however, I found the action very meaningful and moving, especially the shared experience of paying my respects with others - strangers, but all connected - who were also similarly affected by Jack's life. It was very, very sad. Is there anything more final than the coffin?

I signed the condolence books, then wandered through Nathan Phillips Square reading and photographing memorials. Throughout the morning, the square was filling up with people, many wearing various shades of orange. I wore orange, too.

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At around 11:00, a circular area around The Archer, the Henry Moore sculpture near City Hall, was barricaded off for the hearse and limos, and people began to gather around the barricades. I found a spot near the door, so I was under the overhang; most people were standing in the broiling sun. Over a period of two hours, there was various activity in and out of City Hall - the TTC Honour Guard assembling, the lead bagpiper attending to business, limo drivers receiving instructions.

Finally the escort cars drove off, then returned. The crowd erupted in applause as Olivia, Michael Layton, Sarah Layton, Olivia's mother, and other family members emerged. Olivia walked walked by herself from the car into City Hall, the others following in small groups. Not long after, the bagpipers began to play, and the RCMP pallbearers carried the flag-draped coffin to the hearse. The crowd began a spontaneous chant of "Thank You Jack" that went on for a very long time. Olivia walked, alone, behind the coffin. It was heartbreaking. I was directly behind the media platform, and as the hearse drove off, I saw many reporters and camerapeople brush tears from their eyes.

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When the cars drove off, I joined the "People's Procession" and (by texting) quickly found my friends from the War Resisters Support Campaign, who had also been at City Hall. Michelle Robidoux, the Campaign's lead organizer and spokesperson was already in Roy Thompson Hall, by invitation. A few other members had been invited through through their labour unions or their personal connections to Jack and Olivia, but Michelle was there to represent the War Resisters campaign. Think of what that says about Jack and Olivia. It fills me with pride and joy and hope.

The Procession was amazing! Samba Elegua was clanking and shaking, New Orleans horns were blaring, hundreds of cyclists were ringing their bells. Orange was everywhere! I ran into several IS comrades and other activist friends. It was one of the biggest crowds I've ever seen in Toronto.

By the time we passed St. Andrew's Church on King and University, set up to accommodate overflow crowds, the church was filled. I heard that the CBC lobby was also filled. The crowd packed into Picaud Square (the new name of Metro Square). I maneuvered into some shade (I have no tolerance for sun and was already overheated) and watched and listened to the funeral from there.

I assume every Canadian reading this watched the funeral, but if you are not from Canada and are curious about the man Canadians are mourning and celebrating, this page at CBC.ca has video of the entire funeral, and especially shorter videos of three important eulogies: from his adult children, Michael Layton and Sarah Layton, and the central eulogy from Stephen Lewis.

Michael Layton's and Sarah Latyon's remarks were especially beautiful, and Stephen Lewis was brilliant. Some conservative Canadians are miffed that Lewis's remarks were so blatantly political, but how could one possibly speak about Jack Layton in any other way? Jack's life and his politics were inseparable. What's more, this was clearly what Jack wanted; he planned the service himself. As for "our tax dollars" paying for an event with political content, the G20 says hi. It must be endlessly irritating for the right-wingers to see social justice and inclusion publicly celebrated for almost an entire week.

I also enjoyed the sermon by Reverend Brent Hawkes, even though I did not relate to it personally. Hawkes said that in his one of their final talks, he asked Jack "how churchy" the sermon could be, and Jack said, "Go for it." It was indeed a religious or spiritual sermon, which I gather was in keeping with Layton's own spirituality. As an atheist who doesn't believe in an eternal soul or any sort of life after death (except in the sense that our bodies decompose and remain part of the organic matter of the planet), the idea of reuniting with loved ones in the great beyond is completely bizarre. But one line from the sermon stays with me. Reverend Hawkes said, quoting Jack:
One should always have a dream that is larger than one's lifetime.
More than an aphorism, this speaks of an entire orientation towards life - a life of altruism, of unfinished struggle, of collective action. If you dream something bigger than your own lifetime, that dream is more important than you. It transcends personal reward or credit. Your dream can only be accomplished by passing the torch to others. Jack Layton picked up the torch of public service and social justice, and he ran with it as long as he could. Now he's passed the torch to us.

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Our photos of the memorials on Flickr: to jack, with love and thanks.

1 comment:

laura k said...

One of my activist friends posted on Facebook: "Imagine a country where during a state funeral, the minister can refer to his husband!"

That's the Canada Jack helped create! The one we're trying to continue.