Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Saying Goodbye to a Classy Guy

I watched a sitcom episode years ago in which the main characters decided to write obituaries for themselves, even though none of them were facing imminent death.  The idea was, if you wrote your obituary in the tone you want to be remembered, you would live out your life accordingly.  Each character wrote a lofty obituary filled with praise and laudatory statements about how they made the world a better place, lived a life of integrity, and so on.  At first, they tried to live up to the words they had written about themselves but after a few weeks, it proved too cumbersome and they were back to their old spiteful, petty selves. Hilarity ensued!

Yesterday in Canada, Jack Layton, a lifelong politician,
died after a battle with cancer. A state funeral has been organized and long obituaries and tributes will dominate the media today.  All of those obituaries will describe him as a passionate, optimistic, tireless advocate for the downtrodden, a man who truly did dedicate his life to improving the world for others, a person who never waffled on his beliefs, a downright classy guy and a decent human being.  And unlike the fake obituary writers in the TV show, Jack will deserve every word of the praise posthumously
lavished upon him because he genuinely lived his life that way. What's more, many of those tributes will come from 'enemies', voters of all political stripes.

While every politician needs to possess the drive to succeed, a strong competitive instinct and a love of the spotlight, over time, most of them become consumed with those things and in their rise to the top, are more focussed on their own self-importance than the needs of their constituents.  Jack didn't seem to succumb to this plight.  While I did not support his political party, I always believed that he was 100 per cent engaged in what he saw as the fight for justice and equality and that he believed his destiny lay in helping advance the causes of those who didn't have a voice.  It has made me think about how lovely it would be to live life in such a way that even those who disagree with you, remember you fondly.

Just before he died, Jack wrote an open letter to Canadians in which he asked them to remember that "love is better than anger, hope is better than despair, optimism is better than despair".  Classy words from a classy guy.

RIP Jack Layton.

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