It’s all about Jack
This week, Canada has been swept by a wave of grief for the untimely passing of Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party and of L’Opposition Loyale de Sa Majesté. He passed away early Monday morning after a courageous fight with cancer, only a few months after leading his social democratic party to an unprecedented 103 seats in Parliament.
Reams have been written in the last two days about his illustrious career, beginning as a Toronto city councillor (sometimes serving as deputy mayor and acting mayor of Canada’s largest city) and continuing as the Member of Parliament for Toronto-Danforth and leader of Canada’s social democrats, crowned by his amazing near-sweep of Quebec (unfortunately, the Conservatives very nearly swept my own province of Manitoba. Maybe I should move). He was a musician, a gentleman whom his opponents are proud to honour this week, a father and a friend. But that is not why I am writing about him now.
I just want to talk about one paragraph, in one letter, and what it means to me.
Before he passed away, Jack (and I never knew him, but that is whom he has always been, to me and to thirty-three million other Canadians) wrote a letter to his party, his caucus, fellow cancer sufferers, to young Canadians, and to all of us. He concluded with the following paragraph:
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.
In the last federal election, I voted for the Greens (mostly because I knew and liked their candidate, and had never even met the others – and I knew the Conservative candidate would win anyway, sigh). In the last provincial election, I voted for the NDP because I liked Gary Doer. Not very good reasons for choosing a party, one might say. I am an incorrigible social democrat, a feminist, a believer in the perfectibility of the world. The personal is always very political, to me.
But I do have a reason to be fired up, to want to change the world, to be loving, hopeful and optimistic. I never met Jack Layton, much to my regret. I think he’s the best Prime Minister Canada never had, and now never will have. He was cut down with his work unfinished. The Mishna says the following in Pirkei Avot, a blueprint for an ethical life that we study on Shabbat afternoons:
Rabbi Tarfon taught: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either” (2:16).
I don’t yet know what I can do to make the world a better place, but I do feel that it is incumbent upon me, and upon every person who is grieving Jack Layton’s untimely passing, to do whatever we can to increase the light in the world, now that such a bright light has gone out.
How will you help make the world a better place?