- by Alyson Shane
I miss him like crazy.
Jack Layton was the second politician to make an impact on me and my political views.
The first was Barack Obama.
I met Jack Layton at a campaign rally here in Winnipeg during the election of 2011. He was shorter than I'd expected but his charismatic energy filled the room so much that it didn't matter. I still caught myself catching my breath.
He talked about ideas that make sense, like inclusivity, combatting climate change, and true universal health care, and that were grounded in an unwavering belief that by working together we could achieve much more than we ever could by competing against one another.
The room was filled with young people and people of colour and it felt good to be among hundreds of others who believed, like Jack, and like me, that we all become better together.
During his speech Jack talked about being a Canadian Idealist. I didn't know what that was, so I looked it up later, and this is what I know:
Canadian Idealism is a philosophical belief founded on three principles:
1. The Enlightenment (capitalism) has suppressed culture in our society.
Culture is how we make sense of our values and beliefs as a society. We need to invest in preserving and promoting our culture because it's how our knowledge and historically inherited ideas are passed down through generations.
2. Philosophy must include a study of history.
We need to thoroughly understand and study history and see where we went wrong in order to keep from making the same mistakes. This is the only way to build towards a society that can balance the civic unity (aka, the common good) with individual freedom.
3. We achieve freedom through the ethical life of our community, not in spite of it.
By participating actively in our society, and by putting social systems in place where people feel empowered to thrive and pursue their goals, we can build a society that is truly free (aka, positive liberty).
Turns out, I'm a Canadian Idealist. Who knew.
At the end of his speech Jack stuck around to shake hands and take photos, and I snaked my way through the crowd and ohmygod somehow wound up right in front of him. I felt overwhelmed and slightly sick, like meeting your idol for the first time. I blurted out something dumb like:
"I really admire what you're doing and I believe in you."
And Jack Layton took my hand in both of his hands and looked me in the eye and said
"I believe in YOU. We're in this together, and we couldn't do this without you."
I get misty thinking about how empowered he made me feel in that moment, and clearly it made an impact on others, too:
That election cycle, thanks to his leadership, the New Democratic Party more than doubled their seats in the House of Commons, and the NDP became the Official Opposition party for the first time ever.
Everything felt hopeful. Sure, we hadn't quite given the Conservatives the boot (yet), but the Orange Crush had come and the tides appeared to be turning. Canada, finally, started to look like it may become the kind of country that 30.63% of Canadians just like me wanted to see.
(Remember that the Conservatives won with 39.62% of the vote - just an 8.99% difference.)
Then, too suddenly, Jack Layton announced that he'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and on August 22, 2011, he died.
I still can't believe he's gone.
He was a beacon for the kind of person we should strive to be, and is someone I try to model myself after when it comes to how I live my life and advocate for the things I believe in.
You could tell that he was one of those rare people who got into politics because he believed passionately in the need for positive change. Not just through the policies he pushed for, but because he lived and breathed his beliefs in everything he championed, and everything he did.
He founded The White Ribbon Campaign, a movement of men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls.
He was one of the early advocates in the fight against AIDS.
He championed same-sex marriage.
He installed solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling in his house.
He rode his bike everywhere.
Even in his death, he managed to inspire so many of us with his last words.
As he lay dying, all that he could think to do, after spending his whole life in the service of others, was to leave us with a message of hope, forgiveness, and unity.
I'm going to copy/paste it from the CBC website below because you should read it. We all should. We live in scary, divisive, and uncertain times and it's important to be reminded of the good that resides in all of us.
So let's pour one out for one of the kindest and most compassionate Canadians of all time, our good friend The Honourable Jack Layton, PC MSC
Canada could really use you right now.
August 20, 2011
Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.
Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.
I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.
I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.
A few additional thoughts:
To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.
To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.
To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.
To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.
To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.
And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.
My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
All my very best,
- by Alyson Shane
This morning I was having a dream about being in school, or on a campus of some sort. My dreams are typically pretty vivid and have been positive and adventurous recently, which I've enjoyed.
I was dreaming about sitting in a too-hot kiddie pool and talking to a boy named Eric that I went to high school with about politics when John slid back into bed and brought the cats with him.
We lay there for a long time pressing our bodies together and talking while the cats crawled over us. We talked about the future and our hopes and dreams, and when it got too hot and uncomfortable to lie in bed together we untangled ourselves and went upstairs.
John makes coffee every morning, and this morning while he was catching up with his mom on the phone I went into the sun room to spend some time reading.
I've just started a new Haruki Murakami novel and I'm already halfway through.
Not that I'm bragging or anything; the intro and story are 101 pages total and I can usually read 50-100 words in a sitting, so having started it yesterday and finished it today is pretty standard for me.
But then again I've always read quickly.
I'm reading Wind/Pinball, which is a collection of two of Murakami's first stories. Hear the Wind Sing is the first one, and Pinball is the second.
I like Murakami's novels because even though they explore themes like relationships and loneliness and loss, on the surface nothing much ever happens.
At least, not in the traditional narrative sense.
Humans like to read stories that have a complete narrative arc. We like beginnings, middles, and ends that arrive at conclusions that make us feel like everything's resolved.
I read a book in university called The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell about this exact topic, and he says:
“The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It's usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.
I've read several of Murakami's novels now, including:
- Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
- Kafka on the Shore
and my favourite Norwegian Wood
and can say that generally speaking the stories in his novels don't follow this arc.
Most of Murakami's stories are about a series of normal and benign things that happen to people (usually men) peppered with strange details, made-up references, or the occasional quote so striking that you have to go back and re-read it a few times.
Things happen, and characters explore their feelings and experiences, but his novels feel subdued and introspective and placid in a way that makes him inaccessible for a lot people, I think.
I'm the only person I know who has read any of his work, come to think of it.
Lately I've been trying to do as much of my reading in the sunroom as I can.
Our sunroom is walled-in, but has several large windows that we keep open spring, summer, and fall, but close when it gets too cold in the winter.
I like to work there, or sit and read, and listen to the sounds of the neighbourhood go by.
Today, after I finished reading Hear the Wind Sing, I sat in the sunroom in a beam of light, sipping the coffee John made for me and watching the neighbourhood come to life. A dog was barking down the street. Kids were playing in the front yard across the road.
In front of my house a man walked by pushing with stroller with a small baby tucked up inside of it. He had on sandals, jean shorts, a band tank top, Ray Bans, a man-bun, and was holding a coffee from a trendy little shop up the road.
His other child, a boy of one or two, toddled along ahead of the stroller, teetering on his newly-found legs and feet.
The dad watched after his older son, balancing the coffee cup on the handle of the stroller as he pulled the shade down over his infant's eyes, protecting his infant from the brightness and heat.
He couldn't have been any older than I am.
Watching him reminded me that in a few months I'll be married. Moving into the phase of life dedicated to homes and kids and parenting.
No more lazy Sundays spent sipping fancy coffee with whisky in it watching the neighbourhood come alive through a beam of sunlight in yr sunroom.
Nothing makes you feel older than being around other people.
In the story I was reading Murakami says: “all things pass. None of us can manage to hold on to anything. In that way, we live our lives."
I think he's right.
- by Alyson Shane
who is friendly and sweet and kind, and has a terrific memory for names.
I see them at my local watering holes; at the bars and coffee shops where I sit with my laptop to work when the weather is nice, or when I've been feeling a bit stir-crazy from working from home all week.
We've had lots of conversations. They regularly ask me how I'm doing, even though I'm pretty sure they don't fully "get" what I do for a living. They tell me about the odd jobs they take, how hard it can be to get a full-time gig, and how much they like working outside, and with their hands.
Everyone at all of the places I go knows them and asks how they're doing.
All the staff know their name. The people working behind the bar, or behind the counter, will say hello and goodbye and tell them to come back and visit soon.
Everyone asks what they've been up to, and gives them advice when they ask for it.
They get, and give, a lot of hugs.
I love interacting with them, and watching them interact with others.
This person, by the way, has a developmental disability.
It's worth mentioning because I don't think people usually come together around each other this way. There's a sense of collective caring that seems to manifest itself in the right people.
Every time I sit at a counter or a table or a bar and listen to the people around me come together to care about, support, and create a community that is inclusive for everyone it makes me a bit emotional.
Because I read and listen to a lot of news about people who don't give a shit about one another, and it's pretty easy to start assuming that other people around you are malicious, or ill-intentioned
instead of being, I dunno
just a regular person trying to do their best and get by
and it's nice to be reminded that most people you meet are kind, and decent, and willing to create a community together
and all you have to do is say "hello" to become a part of it.