THE BLOG

Jack Taught Us That Optimism is Better Than Despair

08/22/2013 05:22 EDT | Updated 10/22/2013 05:12 EDT

Two years ago today, the rest of Canada and I woke up to the news that Jack Layton had died. A man who had worked tirelessly to better our country, who had spent his life fighting for equality for all Canadians, was gone. I was in shock. I didn't know what to do.

My friend Mandi and I had a coffee date that morning, so I packed Theo up in his stroller and set out for her place in the east end. Did you hear about Jack? I whispered to her, as if it was some kind of secret. As if saying it out loud would make it true.

She lived around the corner from his office, and we had to walk by it to get to the coffee shop. I want to get some flowers, I told her, to leave in front of his office. But there were no flower shops nearby -- just a few East Chinatown convenience stores. The only plant we could find was a little pot of stunted bamboo shoots.

He'll like it, I said to Mandi, after all, his wife is Chinese.

We started giggling and couldn't stop. It was either that or burst into tears.

That week I watched in awe as Torontonians came together to share their love for Jack. Our famously cold, unfriendly city began to bare its soul in chalk messages written all over Nathan Phillips Square. When thunderstorms washed away the chalk, the people came back and filled the square with writing all over again. I have rarely seen something more beautiful than that.

I think that what Jack would have loved most of all was the unity among the people of Toronto that week. All of us, from all walks of life, keenly felt his absence. Although many of us might not have realized what we'd had while he was still living, we suddenly realized how much we'd lost after his death.

Last August 22nd I went back to Nathan Phillips Square for Dear Jack: A Celebration. Much like the year before, there were chalk messages written everywhere, and there was a large orange-bedecked crowd milling around. Most of the evening was lovely; I enjoyed the performances (especially Raffi -- finally all my childhood dreams were realized!) and it broke my heart in just the right way to hear Olivia Chow speak about Jack. But I was frustrated that some people chose to use that night as a platform for their political ideologies.

One woman wrote "Dear Jack, Toronto apologizes for Rob Ford. At least you missed that!" And I thought, how is this a response to someone who asked for love, hope and optimism? We have 364 days a year to trash Rob Ford -- couldn't we use today as a time to get together to mourn, love, and look towards the future?

I'm glad I went, though. Theo enjoyed running around and playing with the chalk, and I loved running into various friends, exchanging hugs and murmurs of I can't believe it's been a year. I'll try to make it back to City Hall today to leave another wonderfully impermanent message on the concrete walls; I hope that it's something that I'll do every year. I hope to be able to pass this tradition on down to my son, to pull him onto my lap every August 22nd and tell him the story of he time we too him to Jack Layton's funeral. I want to tell him how loving everyone was, how kind. I want to tell him how he, a tiny seven month old baby, sat perfectly still through the whole service, his mouth open in rapt contemplation as he stared at the enormous screen set up outside Roy Thompson Hall.

I want him to know that it's possible to have good politicians, men and women who keep their promises, who give over their entire lives to improving the working and living conditions of everyone around them.

I want my son to have hope.

We miss you, Jack. I miss you. Thank you for everything you did. Most of all, thank you for inspiring us to continue to fight to build a better country, for helping us to believe in a more loving and just world. I think that your true legacy is the group of people who are using what you've built as a starting point, and are now running headlong towards the future, spreading love, hope and optimism along the way.

I won't let anyone tell me it can't be done. I will change the world.