His Last Fight. Our Continued Work: thank you Jack

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My mom didn’t like the moustache.“Don’t like it” she’d say, “…he should shave it”.

Upon his arrival across television sets and the national political stage, there were folks who felt Jack Layton needed to shave off that moustache to be taken as a serious candidate. Rather than hear the message, they felt it would be lost with some voters, distracted by trivial characteristics. He had wore that look since his days as a bicycle-riding city counsellor in jeans decades ago in Toronto.

Rather than shave and bend to the politics of appearance
Rather than trim down his believes
Rather than downplay his convictions for larger mainstream appeal
Rather than avoid saying what was unpopular at the time
Rather than compromise

 

I am a fighter.

 

He didn’t bend, didn’t settle, He had the vision, the belief in the vision and the fight in him to push through. And the message indeed pushed through. He became a bicycle-riding Official Leader of the Opposition. With a moustache.

With that same vision.
With that endless energy and passion for the nation.
With a passion for life in a political arena full of lifeless, hollow cardboard characters. He never watered down his fiery drive and purpose. I learned so much from that moustache.

The week before cancer took Jack’s life, I optimistically wrote his name down as a possible keynote speaker for our upcoming 2nd annual ‘What Makes a Man’ White Ribbon Conference at Ryerson in February 2012. Our conference explores how narrow concepts of gender affect both men and women in every aspect of life. Jack was also one of the co-founders of the White Ribbon Campaign 20 years ago. He would be a tremendous keynote speaker and could touch on so many intersecting issues, as he had throughout the work of his entire political career. So he was on the wishlist. Optimistic.

In my mind, it wasn’t a question of if he had that much more time with us,  it was more a question of if he’d have the time to attend.

I know…

I saw the press conference in July.

I saw him walk out with his cane, bravely wade through a room flooded in silence. I saw him ‘matter of fact’ to the press that he was simply taking a temporary leave for The fight, and then get back to the Fight.  My eyes welled as I watched. I commented to friends how this horrid sickness rapidly reduced the man on the outside, yet never weakened the resolve of the man inside.

And, like many of us, I expected him to beat it. You could cash that cheque. We couldn’t imagine it any other way.  He always defied appearance and perception.

 

I am a fighter. And I will beat this.

 

This was our attitude with the news in July, regardless of political stripe most of the nation said “ok, go rest up Jack, we’ll see ya soon…”

We were unaware of how serious his last fight had become.

Even when we saw his frail appearance.
Even when we saw he really needed that cane more than before.
Even though the sound of his voice seemed like a weakened whisper…

 

I am a fighter. And I will beat this.

 

His words still leapt from his mouth with unshakable resolve and intention. They resounded and pounded like fists upon the doors of your heart to get up…to stand up.

 

I am a fighter. And I will beat this.

 

So I envisioned him at our conference, envisioned him speaking on being a man who wasn’t afraid to display all sides of his humanity in the public eye. Jack constantly did not allow narrow ideas of masculinity to limit his expression of his self, his emotion and humanity,  and his vision for all Canadians.

Before this press conference, he had just run a miracle mile. He had a run across this country that defied the odds and ignited a people numb to politics, a people starved for inspiration.

Did he know what he was facing? Did he sense that death had regrouped to launch a stronger, final campaign inside?  Did he take that moment, not only to spread inspiration, but to say goodbye.

After my dad’s fatal heart attack in 2003, I went to his home office to discover he had laid out all the documents for the house and other things we’d need. As if he knew he wouldn’t live to see them through. He laid out a map, a blueprint.

So too did Jack lay a blueprint. Many blueprints. Blueprints for Change.

One of those blueprints was an effort 20 years ago, sometimes coordinated in available spaces like his son’s bedroom, to co-found what is now the world’s largest effort to end violence against women and inspire men to embrace the best of what they could truly be. The freedom to Live Your Life, the freedom to Be Who We Are.

Todd Minerson, the Executive Director of the White Ribbon Campaign shared that Jack told him to “have a dream that would last beyond your lifetime”.

Truly the work of ending violence against women, homophobia, transphobia and re-defining manhood is as daunting as it gets, and that all the more reason we need to pursue and persevere with more passion than ever. Jack felt so strongly about what he believed in. He spoke for those who, because of appearance, social structures or place in life, didn’t have a voice. The people one couldn’t imagine seeing as a political leader…people like Jack.

 

I am a fighter. And I will beat this.

 

If you have a moustache or a full beard, a turban, skin of colour or a partner of the same sex, a different religion or life experience…Whatever battle you face, whatever dream you struggle and persevere to realize…

 

You are a fighter. And you will beat this.

 

Whether it’s a better life for your kids, protecting the environment, beating cancer, ending violence against women, prejudice because you are different, helping the homeless, battling depression, eradicating poverty, escaping violence, overcoming racism in your town…

 

You are a fighter. We will beat this.

Optimism is the infection that truly spread through Jack’s body.

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I was one of the hundreds of people to leave a message on the sidewalk Jack walked, the grounds of a city hall where he laboured towards change with love and endless passion. One of my favourite chalk messages to Jack at Toronto City Hall says it best:
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‘You can rest now Jack, we’ll take it from here’
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.…because I am a fighter…and We will finish this.
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Optimism is contagious.
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