In the corner of my bedroom is my father’s cane. In the final months of his battle with cancer, it became necessary. But it was also used with such an ease and, often, to great comic effect. It became an extension of him. So I have kept his cane – near.
I think this is why my favourite images of Jack Layton are those with his cane. Jack, in some respects, reminded me of my father. They were vigorous, proud and handsome men. But when the cancer stripped them of that and left them leaning on canes, it exposed to any who had not yet seen them, spirits so sweet and strong that our sympathies were awakened and we were made to love them.
Everybody knew Jack, of course. So much of his life was public. And so it seems over these past months that every Canadian came to know his spirit as he lived out his life so beautifully, courageously, valiantly propped up by his cane. And so it seems every Canadian has wept over his loss.
Ever since Jack announced that he had prostate cancer, I wanted to share with him my father’s story. Cancer killed my father. But my father triumphed in the only battle, as it turns out, in which he had a fighting chance – the battle within, over how he would live for the time he had left.
In the terms that Jack left us, my father chose love over anger, hope over fear, optimism over despair. It was a faith that always threatened to slip from his grasp – as it is bound to do in the face of death – but that rested firmly within his embrace when death came. It was a beautiful life he lived and a noble death. As was Jack’s.
But “into the mystic” went Jack and my father too and we are left without them. But it doesn’t – didn’t – end there, of course. What follows such lives is a restoration for those who witnessed how they lived and died. We are strengthened in the knowledge that if others can go to their deaths with such a faith then we, at least, can live by it. So, as I once pressed on with my father in my heart, so it seems now that all of Canada, me included, will do the same with Jack.
I believe that the measure of us as a country – and certainly of me as an MP – will be to what purpose we use our new strength. If we are not to despair – and how can we now with Jack in our hearts – then we are confronted with the most fundamental of political questions, “What do we do?” “How do we organize ourselves for the common benefit?”
In his letter to us, Jack pointed the way: we must organize our collective life around love and hope – we must be generous.