Jack Layton is dead at age 61 and Canada mourns. When he appeared on TV on July 25, he looked gaunt and pale. It didn't seem possible that he'd be able to keep his promise of returning to politics in September, but I never imagined that we'd be losing him less than a month later.
I'm not very active, politically, and I've never met Mr. Layton, or Jack, as I'm sure he'd rather be called, but I greatly admire him and what he represents. He was the leader of the third party in a country which almost always elects one of the other two parties. He chose to head up the federal NDP when the possibility of him becoming our prime minister was pretty slim.
Unlike some politicians who switch parties like some people change their clothes, Jack remained in the NDP knowing that it would be an uphill battle to gain any significant political clout. He watched as other prime ministers came and went, but never stopped believing in his cause.
Jack Layton lived to see his party become the Official Opposition, and got to experience the role of leader of the opposition. I believe that he would have been content to keep on fighting the good fight, regardless.
I understand what it means to spend your life as the underdog, having grown up with a mom who specialized in taking on insurmountable challenges. In this way, Jack Layton reminds me of my mother; both of them having dedicated their lives to the cause of social justice despite the dearth of results.
I asked my mom one day, when I was quite young, why she worked so hard when often, her efforts came to naught. Her answer was that it was the right thing to do. I imagine that Jack worked as hard as he did for the same reason.
My mother happened to be a big lefty. She was the one in the family who consistently voted NDP, but regardless of their shared politics, she and Jack had a more significant commonality: to strive for change even if you don't expect to live to see the results; to inspire others to take up the struggle so that one day the status quo might finally shift.
I'm in awe of people who work tirelessly for what they believe in, despite the low pay, grueling hours or lack of support. I've never been that courageous. My mother was a special woman in the way she maintained her enthusiasm and kept focused on her goals, despite the presence of naysayers and the absence of tangible results.
In the same way, Jack Layton was a special man. He held fast to his cause and wasn't deterred by the negativity swirling around him, including those who misrepresented him or tried to undermine his efforts. He remained affable, energetic and optimistic, until cancer finally took him down.
This week, we've lost not just a great politician but a fine man and a role-model for future generations. Jack Layton strove to make our country a better place for all of us. He never quit and never gave up. He was the best kind of idealist until the very end. His death is a tragic loss, not just for his family but for the entire country.
For me, the loss is bitter-sweet. In thinking about the the life and work of Jack Layton, so many wonderful memories of my mother are brought back to mind. I'm reminded of how lucky we are to be able to spend some time with one of these unflagging optimists. Our lives are enriched not only by their great deeds, but simply by having known them.