Jack Layton memorial

Yesterday I went to a candlelight memorial thing for Jack Layton, on the steps of the Legislature.

Edmonton note for readers from elsewhere: it seems that pretty much anything important with lots of people happens on the steps of the legislature. They are big sandstone steps. The City Hall doesn’t have nearly as big a gathering place, and it’s filled up with wading-fountain and there isn’t a high spot to speak from. I’ve been to the steps of the Leg for speeches during a charity walk, and on Canada Day, and I’ve been invited to lots more rallies and things and not gone. Oddly, I’ve never actually been inside the legislature. Also, when I first moved here, I thought “The Ledge” was some geographic formation on the hillside of the river valley, not the riverside buildings and parkland of the seat of provincial government. Fortunately I figured it out without betraying my ignorance.

I went with a couple of knitting friends, and I wore my orange sweater. There were lots of people there – the paper said thousands. The formal part had several important local NDP people, including a well-loved former provincial party leader and a U of A student. There was a really good social-justice choir, but we didn’t sing O Canada. I thought it was almost perfect – not too long, mostly inclusive, funny bits and celebration and lots of repetition of the Jack Layton quotes and common sayings (I’d forgotten how much the roll-up-our-sleeves was iconic). Our MP Linda Duncan was obviously very sad and close to choking up, but she managed that well enough not to make people uncomfortable either way. Afterwards, people left their candles and other shrine-gifts and wrote chalk messages on the steps, but I didn’t stay.

The one thing I’d have done differently if I were a speechwriter with time to think about it would be to make sure there was more explicit inclusion of people who might not see themselves as NDP but who wanted to honour Jack’s contributions and be part of carrying on a progressive agenda – I wondered, sometimes, what some of the looking-forward hints in the speeches would sound like to someone whose loyalties were Liberal or Green or old-school red Tory (although they might have voted for Linda or Lewis or Ray federally and Rachel provincially), whether they’d sound too partisan or excluding.

It occurred to me later that the candlelight memorial rally thing last night in memory of Jack Layton was entirely secular, unless the Sanskrit poem was more religious than Aditya Rao’s translation sounded. How much my subcultures of choice and our Canadian society have changed during my lifetime – it didn’t feel like anything was missing without any mention of afterlife or prayer, and I didn’t even notice that until sometime today. For me, I feel a lot more strongly about religion being private and consensual than about grief being private, so almost any mention thereof would have felt inappropriate in that context, and I’m really glad that none of the speakers stuck it in. And I know nothing about Mr. Layton’s own religious background or current preferences, any more than I know whether he was legally married as opposed to common-law married, because that has never mattered to me and it hasn’t been obvious in anything I’ve read. (NOTE, this does not mean that you should tell me anything about their marital status; I like not knowing.)  I imagine it would not be that way in the USA.

I don’t really like riding my bike at night in a crowd on the High Level bridge. (I prefer it to the descent and ascent needed to cross at the other bridges.) But there was something really neat about being part of that crowd coming and going, the exuberant kids and quieter adults, the flecks of orange ahead and behind, and then just riding home on Sask Drive which has almost no traffic due to the construction, looking across at the river and downtown, appreciating the warm night, and thinking what a great place this is to live.

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