“And sometimes I despair the world will never see another man like him.”
— From “Superman’s Song” by the Crash Test Dummies
In Christie Blatchford’s much-maligned Aug. 22 column in the National Post, she wrote of Jack Layton’s passing:
“How fitting that his death should have been turned into such a thoroughly public spectacle, where from early morn Monday, television anchors donned their most funereal faces, producers dug out the heavy organ music, reporters who would never dream of addressing any other politician by first name only were proudly calling him ‘Jack.’”
Her tone was sarcastic, but there’s a good reason why reporters — and nearly every other Canadian — referred to him as “Jack,” and not Mr. Layton.
And if Blatchford had not dashed off her pointed polemic on the very day of Layton’s death — though I defend her right to do so — and had allowed herself some time for perspective, she might know why this was so.
Canadians were united in grief when Jack Layton died in a way that we have not seen before in recent history. Not in the face of natural disasters, nor tragic accidents, terrorist attacks or the death of Pierre Trudeau.
The truth is, not even a Stanley Cup win or Olympic gold has inspired the sort of national love-in that we saw in the days after Layton’s death.
“Jack Layton,” as my husband astutely noted, “could revive the hippie movement.”
And contrary to Blatchford’s observation that the multitude of memorials that sprang up all over the country — the flowers, flags, chalk messages, cans of Orange Crush, candles and condolences — “is (not) remotely unusual, or spontaneous, but rather the norm in the modern world,” I contend the opposite is true.
It is the exception, not the rule.
When in recent memory have so many people been moved so much by a single event — the death of a politician, of all things — that they felt compelled to make some public gesture? When have so many people shed real tears at the news that someone many of us never even met had died?
Jack Layton’s death even seemed to move Stephen Harper — eliciting tears from someone who, most of the time, seems emotionally detached.
Blatchford condescendingly refers to Layton as “a likeable, agreeable, smiley man.”
But she seems oblivious to the fact that Canadians felt genuine loss at his passing.
And his death was heartbreakingly sad for many reasons.
To see anyone who was a fit, happy, vital person ravaged by disease is deeply distressing. To see a 61-year-old politician with universal appeal, bounding energy and endless optimism lose his life at the very top of his game is tragic.
Upon witnessing Layton’s triumph in the May federal election when he led the NDP’s thunderous victory to gain status as the official opposition, I could not help but think that while Harper had won the power he was seeking, it was Layton who had won the election.
Because it was Layton who won the admiration and respect of many Canadians, no matter who they’d voted for.
And, again, contrary to Blatchford, who called Layton’s letter to Canadians “vainglorious,” noting, “Who seriously writes of himself, ‘All my life I have worked to make things better’?” I considered Layton’s letter heartfelt and a recognition that his was a voice people were willing to listen to, because he represented a real sense of renewed hope in a country where the federal government is often mistrusted.
In the days after his death, many people observed that Layton’s vision for Canada was a country where everyone — old and young, straight and gay, black and white, the disabled and the poor — had an equal right to security and opportunity.
I will always remember where I was when Jack Layton died. I will always remember the sudden rush of shock and grief.
Shock and disbelief
When Canadians saw Layton for the first time in weeks on that grim day in July when he announced he had to step aside because he was stricken with a second cancer, there was a collective intake of breath.
Gone was the smiling, confident man we had seen often on the campaign trail. He was gaunt and fragile. His voice was hoarse and weak. He looked like death was stalking him that day.
But I will try my best to rid myself of that image and, instead, choose to remember the many magic moments during the election when he raised his cane in triumph and jubilation.
It was a symbol of hope and empowerment, of overcoming adversity.
Blatchford dismissed Layton’s letter to Canadians as being full of “bumper-sticker slogans of the ‘love is better than anger’ ilk.”
Well, guess what? Jack was right. Love is better than anger.
And that’s why Jack engendered love and loyalty — not mistrust, not hate, not apathy, not ambivalence — among millions of caring Canadians.
Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.