"Always have a dream that lasts longer than a life."
In discussing the sad, but not unexpected new on 22 August 2011 that, Jack Layton had died, my buddy Norm opined that "history will be kind to him; he went out on top.” Jokingly, I said, "You mean like Elvis, a good career move?"
Well, upon further and more serious reflection, both the timing and the nature of Jack's passing, as others have observed, mark his death as truly tragic, almost Shakespearean. How ironic that after his greatest victory, he succumbed to the cancer that he had so openly, boldly and nobly fought. Life, once again, is the rum joker. Death truly the one with the last laugh.
Within hours of the initial news, two significant events took place. First, the Prime Minister, sometimes he gets it right, er, ah, correct, announced there would be a state funeral. Second, the NDP released a letter written by Jack to his party, to his comrades, and to the country.
I confess that at the time I was not entirely convinced that Jack deserved a state funeral; on the other hand, I wasn't strongly opposed to the idea. It did appear to happen all too quickly, without, from what I could tell, any plaintive national demand, as I said; it seemed much too early to hear that clarion call. Perhaps it was a calculated move by the Prime Minister; maybe he didn't want another Princess Diana moment to wear; maybe he was appealing to Quebec, perhaps, we know little of the man at heart; maybe it was truly a spontaneously act of, dare I suggest, brotherly love.
In the end, whatever the real rationale by Harper, the public obviously seemed to genuinely express its admiration and love for Jack, from all parts of the political spectrum, from all parts of the country, from all cultures and races. When everybody knows immediately about whom you're talking when you just say, "Jack,” it says much about the character of a man.
The letter of course received less enthusiasm, especially by Christie Blatchford and others at the “National Post.” Her opinion piece appeared in the Vancouver “Sun” right beneath Jack's open letter. That decision alone, the placement of the article, spoke volumes.
In case you did not read or hear about the opinion expressed by Ms. Blatchford, as I wrote to the “National Post,” it "may indeed hold a grain of truth in it, somewhere" but it "was, at the very least, ill-timed.” Jack apparently had the audacity to write and want published a call-to-arms letter to the troops, and, moreover, had offended some un-named persons, other than Blatchford and her publishers, by appealing to Quebec, As well as, more shockingly, the letter stated that Canada had lost its good name in the world. How dare he suggest such an idea?
In essence, Blatchford accused Jack, Olivia Chow, NDPers and anyone who looked like them, as the ever-ready bunny battery willing to promote himself and his ideas, at every opportunity, even from his deathbed. It was all, she opined, vintage Jack. One could have summoned Arthur Miller to write her by-line, "The Death of a Salesman.”
Why then did I suggest in my letter to the editor that perhaps there was some truth in what she wrote, even if the timing of her opinion sucked dead bears? Jack was every inch a salesperson. He reminded me, at times, of the little kid down the street selling lukewarm lemonade, as he alluded to it, in his "Let's Make a Deal" sale's pitch, as the Coca Cola of the Century.
Jack knew how to work the media. He had confidence, an over-abundance of it. He had a huge ego. He not only dreamt of being Prime Minister, he lived and preached every day as if he was going to become one.
The trouble at times for me was that he seemed unrealistically cartoon-ish, a fop, the Wizard of Oz. Jack strutted around, every election. He acted as if he were Charlie Brown, trying to kick that political field goal to victory, once again oblivious to the fact that Lucy, the electorate, was going to pull the ball away at the last crucial moment, with Jack ending up on his arse.
Well, like the irrepressible Chuck Brown, if you don't believe in yourself, you are doomed to failure. Knocked down, you get back up and try, try again.
Moreover, the people that know Jack well, the closest, say that's Jack, on and off stage. What you see is what you get. He genuinely believed in what he believed and had a wonderful habit of convincing those around him.
He made people believe in themselves because he believed in them. One thing about star athletes that must be true too of politician, they make the people around them better. Call it ego, call it vainglorious, but the bugger put many lips on those lemonade glasses.
As for Christie Blatchford and her bunch, their shallowness and narrow-mindedness confirmed ever greater, the more we learned this past week about the life and times of Jack and the public response to his passing.
So it was with some vitriol that I further wrote to the Post, "the fact that Ms. Blatchford and you take exception to that sentiment ... is both crass and best left in the sandbox from where you obviously learned, but have never evolved/changed, your ideology and prejudices....neither of you actually have the stature of character to rise above your own daily pig trough; mudslinging media neighbourhood, at a time of national mourning and reflection.”
I don't think they printed my rebuttal.
My dear old crow of a friend, Jeckyl, I being Heckyl, the other old cartoon crow on the telephone line and whom, sensed something significant had happened during the week and especially at the 'Celebration of Life' service, for Jack Layton, at Roy Thompson Hall, in Toronto. She suggests, albeit still working with it, processing it all, that maybe something is afoot; that there's something stirring in in the body politic.
With some additional material herein, I wrote back, "I'm not sure if something stirred the body politic, or something deeper, beyond yesterday, as your blog note suggests but I, for one, celebrated the fact that, albeit in death and ceremony, the ideals that I have believed in all my life were expressed in 'royal' and 'universal' fashion - my 'tribe' assembled and given centre stage.... to see my heroes (Stephen Lewis) not duck or cringe - as we so often have to do, are forced to do - but display pride of purpose.... when the traditional 'majority', the power elite of liberals and conservatives, were in the minority, and held no microphone and thus could not direct the circus.”
When Lewis spoke of Jack's letter as a manifesto for social democracy, it rang not only true but received its long-deserved standing ovation and the dumbfounded conservative members in attendance could do nothing but sit there and look like the fools they have been and continue to be. All over the world, we are seeing the traditional elite either crumbling or struggling thru financial and/or military means to hold onto their power and control. People are fighting and/or finding ways to say 'enough is enough.’ We'll have to wait and see how Jack's death will transform our own country, if at all.
In any case, I did say to a friend that perhaps Jack might be a beacon of light, not unlike Terry Fox. He might be a symbol of the fighter against the odds; the mythic hero, the tragic hero, who dies so his life can begin. A hero who must die to reach or at least point to, his goal, on one leg, as Fox, or Layton with that cane, which became so much more than a walking support, hobbling onward, at risk to their own safety and health; for the love of people and country. Powerful stuff is that. It will happen if it is to be, i.e. if it evolves naturally from the ashes. It will fail, if we try to manufacture it.
There was a genuine outpouring of grief at Jack's passing. The country learned more than they knew about the man and his incredible life. Many great men or women in history are more successful as 'spiritual' leaders than political ones. Not to draw any comparison here, because that would be foolish hyperbole, but I think of Gandhi, who was a complete failure as a politician and even, at times, as a social activist.
Finally, in reference to the service for Jack, I liked the minister's reference to us as more spirits coming into bodies and leaving for further adventures than to bodies living on earth, developing our spirits. The Atheist part of me still has struggles with all that 'after-life' spirit rising stuff; that is, there could well be a 'gawd' and yet no after-life, eternity, nirvana for us plebeian human beings.
I must also confess that while lamenting the ill-timed thoughts of C. Blatchford I also cringed at some Facebook postings showing a picture of Happy Jack on his bicycle, riding off into the sunset, holding a Canadian flag. Spare me, please.
In celebrating his life and his contribution to Canada, as a fighter for the little guy, recognizing the sad ironic twist that he lost the greatest battle in life after achieving so much personally politically, so recently, we would be wise to adhere, once again, to his own wisdom; that it is for us to take up the torch now. We must find our own power, within and, try to, change the world. It is far better to create our own myths now than to overly glorify and mythologize Jack.
The work of Jack Layton is finished, as it has always been and always will be. Our work now begins. Yet, myth is what must guide us, always.
The other evening I watched a documentary on the story of the Rainbow Warrior, the first ship commandeered by Greenpeace. The boat sailed o'er the deep briny to fight, peacefully, the whaling ships, the sealers, and, eventually, the testing of nuclear bombs by the French. As a 'boomer,' I, and many others, cheered on that ship from the shorelines of life. A part of us sailed along with her and the crew. It was a time of endless hope, of endless possibilities.
The ship, blown to pieces by the French secret service, as it sat in a harbour in New Zealand, never reaching its destination. It died trying. Like the effect of Kent State, the Chicago 7 trial, a generation symbolically blown to pieces.
We on 'the Left' have known few victories. We grew old and tired, angry and useless. Damn right, I'm going to celebrate Jack's life; damn tootin' I'm rising to give Stephen Lewis a standing ovation!
We must, until the last breath and until our last letter, make life a manifesto for social democracy. In the aftermath of the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace became a worldwide organization. The Rainbow Warrior was patched-up enough to tow it to its burial grounds where it sank to the bottom of the ocean.
While we still have nuclear bombs, whaling, climate change on steroids... the Rainbow Warrior has been slowly reclaimed by nature, and, ironically, in its 'rebirth, reflects the colours of the flag it once so proudly had painted on its side - a natural rainbow, a sign of hope. The smile of gawd, you might say.
"We are but a moment's sunlight, fading in the grass." This phrase is from the song, “Get Together,” written in 1963 by Dino Valenti, of “Quicksilver Messenger Service.” Valenti gave up the rights to the song when jailed for marijuana possession. “Get Together” was recorded “The Youngbloods,” who credited the song to Chet Powers, a name they made up; at least that's the myth.
Bob Stark is a musician, poet, philosopher and couch potato. He spends his days, as did Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus, pouring lattes and other adult beverages into a recycled mug, bearing a long and winding crack. He discusses, with much insight and passion, the existentialist and phenomenological ontology of the Vancouver 'Canucks,' a hockey team, "Archie" comic books and high school reunions. In other words, Bob Stark is a retired public servant living the good life on the wrong coast of Canada.
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